NHS chief: ‘OK’ to deny patients lifesaving drugs

SCOTLAND’S medicines chief has insisted it is sometimes “OK to say no” to lifesaving drugs, if they do not come at a fair price for the NHS.
NHS chief: OK to say no to lifesaving drugs if cost is too high. Picture: GettyNHS chief: OK to say no to lifesaving drugs if cost is too high. Picture: Getty
NHS chief: OK to say no to lifesaving drugs if cost is too high. Picture: Getty

Professor Angela Timoney, chairwoman of the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), defended the decision to deny patients treatments which are available south of the Border.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s health committee, she told MSPs that “somebody needs to say that’s more than we’re prepared to pay” for certain drugs.

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Prof Timoney did not say which drugs might be considered too expensive. However, campaigners claim there are 19 cancer drugs available on the NHS in England which are not offered to patients in Scotland.

The SMC has refused to approve a new cancer drug, Zelboraf, also known as Vemurafenib, saying it was not cost-effective.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, speaking at the committee meeting yesterday, raised the case of Maureen Fleming, who is considering moving to England after being refused the cancer drug Cetuximab by her health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

But Prof Timoney said: “The NHS is spending more on drugs now that it did last year or the year before.

“It’s very difficult when you say no, and people don’t want to say no.” But she added it must be “OK to say no, because it is not a fair price for the NHS”.

She declined to criticise drugs manufacturers. “The industry are entitled to charge the prices they want to charge, to make the profits they require, but somebody needs to say that’s more than we’re prepared to pay.

“That’s a tough job and we take that seriously. Those are very difficult judgments, based on the evidence, and every single one of my committee members is thinking about the patients they see day in, day out, when making those decisions.”

She said the SMC had approved drugs to treat hepatitis C patients which were “incredibly expensive but also incredibly beneficial”.

However, the SMC was criticised by health charities.

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Leigh Smith, chairwoman of skin cancer charity Melanoma Action and Support Scotland, said refusing to pay for some cancer drugs had “made us [Scotland] look bad, made us look mean about it”.

Professor Charlie Gourley, clinical lead of the Scottish Cancer Research Network in south-east Scotland, said there was a “big disparity” over access to cancer drugs in Scotland and England, with Scots having less.

“Patients who have got diseases, that they want to get these drugs for, are talking about moving south of the Border,” he said.

And Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer added: “All cancer patients want is a level playing field. Their doctors should have the freedom to prescribe the drugs which they feel will benefit their patient.”