NHS England has today announced the outcome of its review of the Cancer Drugs Fund. Although the Fund will increase by £60 million in the year from April 2015 to £340 million, patients in the later stages of cancers are likely to be particularly affected as 25 drugs will be dropped from the Fund's 84 routinely approved treatments. Some of these 25 drugs are used to treat more than one cancer and three are used for advanced breast cancer.
The decisions about which drugs are available to NHS patients are made by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which undertakes a cost/ benefit analysis before approving drugs. NICE had made a number of decisions that new cancer drugs would not be available on the NHS because the clinical benefits to patients are perceived to be outweighed by their high cost.
The Cancer Drugs Fund was set up in by the Government in 2010 with a budget of £50 million following public criticism of cases in which patients were being denied cancer drugs which had been clinically proven to improve quality of life or extend life expectancy but were deemed too expensive for the NHS to fund. Although the Fund was intended to be a short-term response while a more strategic solution was developed, it looks set to remain for the foreseeable future. It approved a list of cancer drugs and criteria for routine funding, as well as considering individual applications for drug therapies in patients with rare conditions or unusual circumstances.
The Cancer Drugs Fund has, however, significantly overspent its budget each year and demands on the Fund continue to rise. Commenting on the outcome of the NHS England’s review, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team said: "The Cancer Drugs Fund has caused controversy since it was set up five years ago. Critics have complained that it is unfair as it gives cancer patients access to drugs that do not meet NICE's cost/ benefit criteria, whereas patients with other diagnoses have no equivalent funding of last resort. But the Fund is a lifeline for cancer patients and the decision to remove a number of treatments has been met with widespread anger from cancer charities and patient groups.
"It is clear that a more strategic and equitable solution is needed as anyone diagnosed with a disease for which a drug exists that could improve their life is devastated to learn that the NHS will not fund their treatment. We hope that pharmaceutical companies and the NHS can achieve a compromise that better enables the cost of drugs to reflect their efficacy within parameters the NHS can afford. In the meantime, the withdrawal of these treatments from the Cancer Drugs Fund means that more patients will suffer from knowing there are drugs from which they could benefit but whose cost puts them out of reach.”