The NHS has pulled funding for cancer treatments affecting 5,500 patients claiming that the drugs involved, which prolong human life, are not cost effective. In total it has now halved the number of cancer treatments on offer, citing financial pressures.
As of November this year the Cancer Drugs Fund in England will no longer pay for 17 drugs, used in 25 different treatments for a range of cancers including blood, breast, bowel and prostate cancers, according to the Telegraph.
The Fund was set up in 2011 by Prime Minister David Cameron, following a manifesto commitment to fund drug treatment for rarer cancers. But over the intervening four years the number of treatments on offer through the fund has been reduced by two thirds, the majority cut this year.
At the start of this year the NHS announced plans to slash 25 treatments benefiting 8,000 patients. Following appeals, just six of those treatments were saved. Now the NHS is again taking an axe to the fund, cutting a further 25 treatments.
The NHS has blamed the cuts on overspend, as the Fund was due to go over budget by £100m in 2014/15. They added that without delisting the treatments, total spend on the fund would rise to £410m this year.
Prof Peter Clark, the chairman of the Fund, told the BBC: “There is no escaping the fact that we face a difficult set of choices, but it is our duty to ensure we get maximum value from every penny available on behalf of patients.
“We must ensure we invest in those treatments that offer the most benefit, based on rigorous evidence-based clinical analysis and an assessment of the cost of those treatments.”
However, the £100m overspend is the same sum that the Mr Cameron has now pledged to donate to Syria, on top of the £920,000 million already handed to that country since 2011.
And it pales in comparison to the £2 billion spent on health tourism, including £388million goes on foreign patients who should pay for their care but are never charged, and a further £300 million on health tourists, who travel to the UK specifically to use the NHS.
Among the delisted treatments are Abraxane, the first treatment for pancreatic cancer in 17 years, and Kadcyla for advanced breast cancer, currently prescribed for 800 women a year as it is shown to extend life for about six months with fewer side effects than any other drug.
Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Care, said: “This devastating decision will mean shattered hopes for thousands of women who could have been helped by these drugs.
“It is completely unacceptable that, in 2015, this inflexible system is blocking access to life-extending treatments, like Kadcyla. Treatments that could give people valuable extra time with their loved ones, and help them continue to contribute to society for many months or even years.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now said: “This is a dreadful day for breast cancer patients.
“Despite many families relying on it, the CDF has unfortunately failed, and today’s delisting will further reduce the NHS’ ability to keep pace with Europe in the treatment of breast cancer.”
A report by Macmillan Cancer Support released in March revealed that cancer survival rates in the UK are a decade behind those of some European countries. In some cancers, the UK had still not achieved survival rates which our European counterparts had attained in the 1990s.
In the case of lung cancer, survival rates were 14% for Austrian patients diagnosed 1995-99, compared with 10% for UK patients diagnosed 2005-09. What’s more, people with lung cancer in Austria are almost twice as likely as patients in the UK to still be alive five years after their diagnosis.
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This analysis exposes the harsh reality that because UK cancer survival rates are lagging so far behind the rest of Europe, people are dying needlessly. Frankly, this is shameful.
“What we can see here is that better cancer survival rates are not unachievable. If countries like Sweden, France, Finland and Austria can achieve these rates, then the UK can and should, bridge the gap.”