i Editor's Letter: Cancer drugs to be denied to NHS patients in England


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The Independent Online

What price hope? That’s what you buy with a cancer drug costing £60,000, £70,000, £90,000 per person. Some of the therapies are not “life saving” – they prolong it by a few months. But it’s impossible to put a cost on that extra time and quality of existence for patients and their families.

Today’s cover story will have profound implications for tens of  thousands of people diagnosed with cancer in the next few years. The Cancer Drugs Fund will no longer pay for 25 of its 84 treatments – an attempt to tackle a  £100m-a-year overspend. Patients  currently receiving the treatments can continue to use them.

The fund is popular with the public; it was an attempt by the Coalition to save lives and end the headlines about patients being denied help. Standards of care have risen as a result, for example with the breast cancer drug eribulin. Yet noted cancer specialists criticise the fund, arguing that the money could be spent more effectively, and that it discriminates against patients with other diseases.

Pharma firms have excelled at developing new ways to treat cancer, but not affordably. They should have done more. They still could. One pharma boss complains that he hadn’t been given the chance to drop the price – “We are happy to be flexible to ensure that the Cancer Drugs Fund is not overspent” – although not so happy as to have shouted about this before.

Cancer drug prices have risen four times as fast as inflation. More  of us are being diagnosed with cancers – about a third of a million Brits every year. HM cannot afford to write drug companies a blank cheque any more, so the NHS and drug companies need a new deal.


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