An improvement in the level of medical treatment available on the NHS is always to be welcomed. The news that Scotland is to make a drug available which can extend the lives of women with breast cancer has been greeted by health secretary Shona Robison as a “good decision”, and while some will argue that other drugs have just as strong a case for instatement, there is a limit to the finance available to fund all treatments. A line must be drawn.
For those who will benefit from Kadcyla becoming available, the decision is momentous. The drug is very expensive, at £90,000 for an average treatment, but its effect on their lives, and their families, cannot be measured in such black and white terms.
However, the decision has not come about because the Scottish Government has seen the light, and had a change of heart. Instead, the availability of Kadcyla became possible when the manufacturers offered a discount on the price of the drug.
The term “postcode lottery” has become a staple of political discourse in recent years, signifying different levels of resource available to people in different parts of the country, usually in health matters.
But the real lottery is the game that drug manufacturers play with those who need their product, but cannot access it because of the profit sought by the supplier. No-one expects drug companies to act as charities, but the availability of an effective treatment which cannot be used because of an excessive asking price is a dreadful situation.
On this occasion, there is a positive outcome, but in many other cases, frustration and despair remain rife while drugs companies hold governments to ransom.