Thousands of NHS cancer patients are not getting access to new, life-extending treatments because health chiefs are failing to secure better prices for drugs, according to research by two leading cancer charities.
The report by Breast Cancer Now and Prostate Cancer UK says that the UK’s appraisal system for approving new drugs lacks the opportunity to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.
As a result, innovative breast and prostate cancer treatments are not as available to patients in Britain as they are to their counterparts in Germany, France, Sweden, Australia and Canada – all countries of similar wealth.
For example, the two charities say that Kadcyla – which can potentially give women with incurable secondary breast cancer an additional six months of life, on average – came out around two and a half years ago and is available in France, Germany and Canada.
In England, however, patients can only get access to Kadcyla through the Cancer Drugs Fund, and it is not available at all in Scotland and Wales.
The report highlights that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body that assesses whether new drugs are made routinely available in England and Wales, has not approved a single new breast cancer drug for routine use on the NHS in the last seven years.
It’s a similar story in Scotland, where the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has approved just two treatments in that time.
In the UK, NICE and SMC have the dual responsibility of both assessing the effectiveness of a treatment and deciding whether it is cost effective. Neither, though, have the power to haggle the price with pharmaceutical companies.
The report recommends that NICE and SMC should not have this dual responsibility going forward and also calls for patients to be more involved in the entire process
In many other countries, a panel of medical professionals assesses the clinical merits of a new drug. Subsequent price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies are then handed over to a separate team of government officials.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “That NHS patients are being denied access to innovative new breast cancer drugs, while other countries are finding ways to make them available, is totally unacceptable.”
She also added that “serious reform” to the way cancer drugs are assessed and their availability determined is needed, so that patients in the UK will not be deprived of crucial treatments in the future.
Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said that it’s pharmaceutical companies which ultimately hold the key when it comes to new treatments by making the prices more affordable.
When NICE announced in November 2015 that Kadcyla would not be made available on the NHS, Sir Andrew said: “We recognise that Kadcyla has a place in treating some patients with advanced breast cancer and we have been as flexible as we can in making our recommendation.
“However, the price that the manufacturer is asking the NHS to pay in the long-term is too high.”
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