Scots denied cancer drugs given in England
CANCER patients in Scotland will miss out on drugs which are now available to sufferers in England through a new treatment fund, campaigners have warned.
The Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF) said 18 treatments had been rejected for use on the NHS in Scotland, many used in less common diseases such as kidney and bone cancers.
But a new cancer drugs fund being launched in England today should mean that more patients south of the Border will receive therapies which have also been rejected by watchdogs there.
The RCF has written to First Minister Alex Salmond calling for action to address the "worrying inequality" now in danger of emerging.
It says the rejected drugs could benefit an estimated 260 Scots and would cost about 5 million over a six-month period.
In his letter to Mr Salmond, RCF chief executive Andrew Wilson condemned what he called "an unacceptable lottery".
"Battling cancer is hard enough without having to fight the system to get access to the treatments your clinician thinks you need.
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"Patients in Scotland are now being denied access to drugs which will be available in England. Your chances of treatment should not depend on which side of the Border you live on.
"Scottish cancer patients should be able to access the same standards of cancer care as their English counterparts."
Mr Wilson explained that the disparity arose with the introduction of the new cancer fund in England, with 50 million allocated to pay for drugs not recommended for general use by the NHS. It will initially run for six months but the coalition government has said it will be extended into the longer term.
The charity calculated that introducing a similar policy in Scotland would cost 5.4 million over six months.
Mr Wilson said: "Although we understand the significant pressures facing the public finances, this is a small amount in the context of wider expenditure on cancer services or medicines in general."
The RCF warned that people could be forced to move to get treatments that were not available in Scotland, or pay for extra care themselves.
Scottish patients who are denied treatments can currently appeal to special panels within health boards as exceptional cases, but these have been criticised as inconsistent and demeaning. The Scottish Government has published guidance to make the system more transparent and fair.
Vicky Crichton, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Scotland, said: "Patients should get equal access to drugs that are proven to be effective regardless of where in the UK they live.Greater transparency to explain the process for the introduction of new drugs is important so that doctors, patients, and the health boards themselves are clear about how funding decisions will be made."
Nanette Milne, Conservative public health spokeswoman, said: "We would encourage the Scottish Government to look at the possibility of setting up of a cancer drugs fund, like the one currently proposed for England, to provide additional funding."
Dr Richard Simpson, Scottish Labour's public health spokesman, said: "It is important that those suffering from rare cancers have access to the medicines that they need and the government must not allow Scottish patients to be disadvantaged compared to those in England."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Decisions about licensing new medicines - not just those for cancer - are made by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which is independent of the Scottish Government.
"Scotland has internationally regarded arrangements for the introduction of new medicines and work is under way to make further improvements.
"Earlier this year we published guidance on the introduction and availability of new medicines which allow patients to make representations to health boards if they disagree with a decision. "
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