Shortage of drugs hits 70,000 cancer patients

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 70,000 cancer patients in Britain are enduring pain, fatigue and broken bones because of a shortage of the most up-to-date drugs.

Cancer experts claim patients are suffering unnecessarily because the older drugs do not adequately control the side effects of the disease. They say 30 per cent of patients do not receive proper pain relief.

The Campaign for Effective and Rational Treatment, led by NHS cancer specialists, estimates the extra cost of providing modern drugs at pounds 93 million, but claim most of this would be recouped by savings on hospital and other treatment as patients would feet better.

The report follows the campaign's earlier study, published last May, which calculated that doubling the NHS's budget for cancer drugs to pounds 170 million would improve the chances of cure or remission for an extra 47,000 patients a year.

Yesterday's report examines supportive treatment aimed at improving quality of life which it says is "drastically underused in the NHS."

David Turner, director of the campaign which is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, said: "Our first report was about adding years to life. This is about adding life to years."

Dr Robert Glynne-Jones, consultant clinical oncologist at Mount Vernon Hospital, said as patients lived longer with cancer the quality of the extra life grew in importance.

"Not everyone can be cured of cancer, but I tell my patients it is my job to give them the best possible quality of life for as long as possible. It is absolutely crucial to keep the pain, bone fractures, fatigue and all the other debilitating symptoms at bay.

The report says wider use of modern painkillers could help 33,000 people a year. Fractures, infection and fatigue could all be reduced by using new drugs.

Dr Glynne Jones called for an urgent review of the new treatments by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. "Considerable advances in quality of life treatments have been made but the UK is too slow in making use of them," she said.