Government's emergency cancer drug fund goes unspent

£200m cancer drugs fund launched today

Cancer clinicians say they have been unable to fund drugs for patients, despite the existence of a £50m emergency fund launched by the Government last October.

In some parts of the country 90% of the fund has gone unspent according to a survey carried out by pharmaceutical company Roche.

The South East strategic health authority (SHA) was allocated £3.9m but spent just 10% while between 20 and 30% of applications were rejected. South Central SHA had spent just 14% of its £3.4m allocation by the end of February, with two-thirds of local clinicians saying they were “unable” to prescribe. In London half of the doctors surveyed said they had been unable to prescribe a drug while 42% said they were deterred because the drug was excluded from a recommended list or because the process was too complicated. A total of 73 clinicians comprising oncologists and haematologists completed the survey, 20 in the London region, 22 in the South Central region, 21 in the South West region and 10 in the South East.

Figures from the North of England suggest a different story. In January 2011, half way through the time the fund was set to last, Yorkshire and Humber SHA had spent 50% while by March the North East had spent 99%.

The interim cancer drugs fund was designed to enable the NHS to fund cancer medicines not routinely available to patients. The Government claims that it has helped over 2,000 cancer patients gain access to drugs since October. However, Roche’s investigation raises questions about the running of the full fund, which begins today and is worth £200m a year for the next three years.

Like the interim fund, this is shared between the ten SHAs that oversee the running of the NHS in England, with decisions on allocating funding made by panels led by clinicians. It is intended to help patients access drugs which the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended should not be funded on the NHS or which it has yet to appraise.

Guidance from the Department of Health issued last month makes it clear that SHA decisions should be transparent and timely. While lists of drugs that should be routinely approved will be created, the guidance makes it clear that these lists should not be exhaustive and must be regularly reviewed. The fund is intended as an interim measure before a new way of pricing medicines is launched in 2013, which the Government believes will widen access to new drugs.



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