Experts reject call for Scotland cancer drugs fund

The review was ordered by health secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Robert Perry
The review was ordered by health secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Robert Perry
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A SPECIAL fund to pay for drugs to treat cancer victims should not be established in Scotland, experts said yesterday.

Two senior academics who carried out a review into Scotland’s system of approving drugs said they did not believe cancer should be singled out from other diseases.

However, the lack of a dedicated fund was criticised last night by the Conservatives, who want a Scottish scheme to be introduced to match the £200 million-a-year system in England. They believe ministers could find the money by scrapping universal free prescriptions north of the Border.

Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s health committee yesterday, professors Philip Routledge and Charles Swainson rejected the calls.

Prof Routledge, who is a professor of clinical pharmacology at Cardiff University, said: 
“I would be loathe to single cancer out from other conditions which shorten life or reduce the quality of life significantly.”

And Prof Swainson, a former medical director of NHS Lothian, agreed, saying that cancer drugs had to be considered alongside other medicines.

All drugs have to be approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) for use in Scottish hospitals. People can also make Individual Patient Treatment requests for items.

The review was ordered by health secretary Alex Neil after concerns were raised by some doctors, charities and patients about access to medicines.

Mr Neil yesterday acknowledged that decisions on which drugs should be made available were “very, very difficult”. But he argued that there was currently a “global issue” about finding drugs at the right price.

Opposition parties, however, insisted that the Scottish Government could do more.

Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “In 2010, Britain was identified as lagging enormously behind comparable first-world countries in the provision of cancer drugs.

“The UK government fixed this problem in England by introducing a cancer drugs fund. However, the Scottish Government has refused to introduce a similar scheme in Scotland, despite spending millions on free prescriptions.”

Campaigners who have petitioned the Scottish Parliament on the issue of which drugs should be available on the NHS.

But the two experts said yesterday that they had concluded that Scotland’s system was a “very good one”. However, they recommend that it can be improved by boosting transparency, so that people can see why decisions are being made.

Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson said there was a problem when the SMC recommended a drug, only for health chiefs on area drug and therapeutic committees not to take it up.

Saying he had “sympathy” with the concern, Prof Swainson said it may be a “good idea” for national standards to be set when specialist medicines are introduced.

Cancer charities such as Macmillan and Breakthrough Breast Cancer Care have held back from supporting a dedicated cancer fund for Scotland on the grounds that the existing system should be reformed to ensure fair access to medicines.