13 January

New cuts to cancer treatments have been warned to cause severe problems for future patients. However, there is a flip-side to consider; health spokesmen say it’s to make room for new and improved drugs to be funded.

These cuts are coming from the decision of the NHS as they over-funded the cancer treatment budget by £100m.

Patients currently using the drugs will still be allowed to use them, but the restrictions will be put in place from the 12th of March. However new treatments have already been discussed, and are set to be put in place from April.

Fund chair Professor Peter Clark said the review – carried out by doctors, pharmacists and patients’ representatives – had prioritized the treatments with the “best clinical benefit” to get the most out of “every pound…There were drugs that did not offer sufficient clinical benefit so we simply cannot go on funding those,” [1]

He went on to say that pharmaceutical firms over the country has worked with the NHS in decisions to lower some prices of medicine in order to save money further. Therefore although this may seem extreme for a lot of patients,  this potentially could make room for cancer treatments to be more advanced in the long run.

The fund will also increase again to £340m next year, even though the cuts will save £80m a year.

However, executives of charities have commented on this decision, and feel this is a bad move on behalf of the NHS.

Owen Sharp, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said the announcement was “just another symptom of a drug appraisal system in meltdown”. While Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said “It’s likely that 65% of patients with advanced bowel cancer face the probability of an earlier death by being refused innovative treatments that were available before,”. And Stephen Whitehead, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the move was “extremely disappointing”. [2]

However if some patients extremely still need the drugs, they can apply as an ‘exceptional case’. And it has been stated that the raise in funding next year is to ensure all patients are receiving the most beneficial drugs they need.

Therefore the question must be, is it worth a year to hold back, to earn years of potentially ‘better’ drugs? Or is this another saving tactic for the NHS, with a danger for patients?

[1] BBC News, (2015). Cuts to cancer treatments announced. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30787132


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