NHS accused of 'dereliction of duty' for denying 43p-a-day drug to breast cancer sufferers

Figures suggest the drug could prevent more than 1,000 deaths a year - one in 10 of all breast cancer deaths

Breast Cancer Now's research found only a minority of Clinical Commissioning Groups in England paid for the drug
Breast Cancer Now's research found only a minority of Clinical Commissioning Groups in England paid for the drug

A charity has accused the NHS of a "dereliction of duty" after a report revealed thousands of breast cancer victims are still being denied access to a 43p-a-day drug.

Breast Cancer Now said the failure to prescribe sufferers with cheap drugs to stop their cancer coming back or spreading to their bones is a "dereliction of duty" on the part of the health service.

Research shows that when post-menopausal women are given bisphosphonates within six months of their initial diagnosis, the risk of breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body within 10 years falls by nearly a third.

Figures from the charity suggest the drugs could prevent more than 1,000 deaths a year from breast cancer – one in 10 of all breast cancer deaths.

Approximately one in eight UK women are likely to develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.

Prescribing bisphosphonates could also save the NHS £5m each year across the UK, the new report said.

The charity used Freedom of Information (FOI) laws to ask Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England if they routinely funded bisphosphonates.

Only a fifth – 42 out of 208 – did so while a further 6 per cent said they had already agreed to fund them and were in the process of implementing the decision.

There was better provision in Scotland and Wales, with two out of three cancer networks offering the drug to patients.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: "In bisphosphonates, we have a simple and cost-effective chance to cut 10 per cent of all UK breast cancer deaths, using drugs already at the NHS' disposal.

"That this is not being taken is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

"We now call on NHS England to take immediate action to ensure all CCGs are able to prescribe bisphosphonates to all eligible patients."

Rob Coleman, professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield, said: "That over 1,000 women a year are being allowed to die unnecessarily from breast cancer is a shameful irresponsibility - particularly when the solution is a safe and inexpensive treatment that within five years would not only save lives but save the NHS precious funds to invest elsewhere.

"The inability of NHS England to action this treatment across the country is totally unacceptable."

Baroness Morgan also said that survival figures for breast cancer are masking a "worrying plateau in progress" for NHS treatment.

The study also found that progress on tackling breast cancer was stalling with waiting times for treatment going up and the number of women attending mammograms going down.

In the first quarter of 2011/2012, 97 per cent patients began their treatment within 62 days of a GP suspecting they had breast cancer, falling to 93.5 per cent in the same quarter in 2017/18.

Meanwhile, in England the proportion of women attending a mammogram screening after an invitation has fallen from 74.8 per cent in 2005/6 to 72.1 per cent in 2015/16.

Women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for breast screenings every three years.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "As well as upgrading modern radiotherapy equipment and ensuring faster access to the most promising new cancer drugs, the NHS is investing £200 million over the next two years in faster diagnosis and modern treatment."

A Department of Health spokesman added: "We have made huge progress on tackling cancer - an estimated 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago and NHS England is leading crucial work to save a further 30,000 lives a year by 2020.

"Any decision to prescribe treatments is a matter for clinicians and should be based on a patient's need and the best available evidence."

Additional reporting by PA

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