New cancer drugs have become much more accessible to patients in England than their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, creating a worrying disparity, say campaigners.
The Government's flagship cancer drugs fund allows patients in England to access potentially life-extending drugs approved by their doctors, but which have not been approved for widespread use on the NHS. The scheme does not operate in the rest of the UK, resulting in a "devastating divide", says Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF).
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the RCF gathered data from health trusts in England on drugs approved through the new fund, worth £200m a year, and compared it with exceptional case approvals for the same drugs in Scotland and Wales.
The findings suggested patients in England were three times more likely to access key cancer drugs as those in Scotland, and five times as likely as those in Wales.
"The drugs fund is great news for people in England and has benefited thousands," said Mr Wilson. "However, a devastating divide has opened with Scotland and Wales. A cancer drug does not become less effective because it is prescribed on the other side of a border. Nor does need become any less pressing."