MINISTERS have been accused of failing Scottish cancer patients by refusing to set up a drugs fund similar to England’s, which was yesterday extended for an extra two years.
Cancer patients in England will benefit from easier access to more than 100 drugs approved by doctors but not yet given the go-ahead for widespread use by the NHS, while sufferers in Scotland will not.
Yesterday, David Cameron announced that the £200 million-a-year Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), which was set up in 2011 and had been due to end in March 2014, will be extended to March 2016 with a further investment of £400m.
The fund was set up to make it easier for medics to prescribe treatments even if they have not yet been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice). In Scotland this role is carried out by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) which decides which drugs, licensed for use, represent the best value to the NHS.
Instead cancer patients in Scotland can have their doctor make an Individual Patient Treatment Request (IPTR) to their relevant health board – a system which is far less effective than the CDF, according to the Rarer Cancers Foundation.
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Rarer Cancers Foundation UK, said: “Prior to the introduction of the Cancer Drugs Fund, access to cancer drugs was marginally better in Scotland than in England. Since the introduction of CDF, that situation has reversed dramatically. There is a disparity in services.
“Scotland is very much focused on the individual funding request system, which was never fit for purpose in England, but what Scotland is saying is that we have looked at the individual funding request system and we have improved it, which is a load of toffee.
“What we always felt was because the Cancer Drugs Fund was a Conservative policy there was no way a CDF could or would be available in Scotland. The Conservatives in Scotland pushed for it and because of the political situation there is very little chance of that happening, which is depressing. This is politics with people’s lives. It is a problem.”
He added: “There is now a basket of over 100 drugs available and fast-tracked through the CDF which are not available on the same basis in Scotland. These cover the new drugs for breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer and is not restricted to rare cancers.”
Access to new medicines has recently been the subject of an expert review commissioned by the Scottish Government as well as an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s all-party health committee. As a result of an interim review a £21m “orphan medicines” fund was set up to cover the cost of medicines for patients with rare conditions which are not available for routine prescription.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said yesterday: “The Scottish Parliament’s cross-party health committee agreed by consensus that Scotland should not create a Cancer Drugs Fund, and they noted the English fund was not supported with new money and had instead led to the top-slicing of other NHS budgets.
“In Scotland we’ve been considering how we can best enhance our access arrangements for new medicines, and we will be setting out how we will improve those processes in the near future.”
According to the Rarer Cancers Foundation, more than 34,000 patients have benefited from the CDF fund and the charity estimates 16,500 extra patients will benefit each year as a result of the extension.
Cameron said yesterday: “When I became Prime Minister three years ago, many patients with rare cancers were being denied lifesaving treatments. That is why we created the Cancer Drugs Fund, it is why we are extending it, and it is why we are partnering with Cancer Research UK to conduct new research into the effectiveness of cancer drugs.”