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Cancer Drugs Fund

This page is about the Cancer Drugs Fund. There is information about


What the Cancer Drugs Fund is

The Cancer Drugs Fund is money the Government has set aside to pay for cancer drugs that haven’t been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and aren’t available within the NHS in England. This may be because the drugs haven’t been looked at yet. Or it may be because NICE have said that they don’t work well enough or are not cost effective. The aim of the fund is to make it easier for people to get as much treatment as possible.


The Cancer Drugs Fund is for people who live in England. The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide on how they spend money on health and so far haven’t decided to have a similar programme.


Explaining the fund

The Cancer Drugs Fund started at the beginning of April 2011 and will continue until the end of March 2016.

The fund is worth £340 million per year. The Government is reviewing how well the fund is working and may make changes. 

There is a national list of drugs available through the Fund. You may hear this called the priority list. If you meet the conditions for a drug that is on the list, you should be able to have it on the NHS if you live in England. The Fund will also consider applications on behalf of individual patients for other drugs that are not on the list. This is usually to treat rare cancers.

The list includes information about which type of cancer the drug can be used for and under what circumstances. So it may also include information about the stage of disease and what other treatments you must have already had, or should not have had. This means that although a drug may be funded for one type of cancer, at a particular stage, funding may not be available for the same cancer at a different stage or for another type of cancer.


Which drugs are available through the fund

You can find out which drugs are covered on this link. You will need to scroll down the page it takes you to. 

The drugs that the Cancer Drugs Fund covers change as new drugs become available or if NICE makes a decision making the drug routinely available within the NHS. New drugs are added to the list after medical evidence about them has been looked at by a group called the Chemotherapy Clinical Reference Group. There are 4 regional panels of experts that provide summaries of the evidence for a drug to this group. The regional panels cover Northern England, the Midlands and East England, the South of England and London. 


Applying for drug funding

Your cancer specialist applies to the Cancer Drugs Fund for you. You can’t apply directly yourself. Your cancer specialist is in the best position to suggest treatment that is best for you and provide evidence to the panel about why they think you need the treatment. The application has to be supported by the lead cancer doctor for your hospital Trust (the clinical cancer lead).

Your cancer specialist makes the decision based on

  • Your type and stage of cancer
  • Any treatments you have had
  • Your general health. 

The specialist also talks to you about what you want. There is a separate application form for each drug, which includes information about the cancer type, stage and any other conditions that have to be met, such as other treatments you must have already had.

You can read more about this on the pages about treatment types in our cancer types section. Choose your cancer type from the list, go to the treatment section and then choose the page called 'types of treatment'.


How decisions are made

Your cancer specialist applies to the Cancer Drugs Fund panel for your area of England (North, Midlands and East, South and London). Your doctor must have already considered any other treatments already available for your type and stage of cancer. 

If the drug your specialist is applying for is on the national Cancer Drugs Fund list, your specialist thinks it is appropriate for you, and you want it, it is likely that you will be able to have the drug.

This is not always as easy a decision as it first appears. Many of the drugs that are on the list are for people who have already had all the other treatments available. It is important to discuss all the pros and cons to having any of these treatments with your specialist. You can find information about individual cancer drugs and their side effects in the treatment section. Choose the cancer drug from the alphabetical dropdown list to get to the information. There is also information on the research page for your cancer type about new treatments and research that is ongoing.

If the drug your doctor wants you to have is not included in the list, the Cancer Drugs Fund panel makes a decision. The Panel includes specialist cancer doctors, pharmacists, specialists in public health and patient representatives.  If they decide not to pay for the drug they will give a full explanation about why they have made that decision.

They make a decision by looking at

  • The reasons why your specialist thinks you need it
  • Your stage of disease and general health
  • What other treatments are available
  • The evidence about how well the drug works and possible side effects
  • The cost of the drug

Doctors can appeal against funding decisions but only if they believe that the CDF panel did not follow the right process or did not take all the available evidence into account. 


How long does a decision take?

The Cancer Drugs Fund panels understand that it is important for decisions to be made as quickly as possible. If the drug you need is on the national list, your doctor may simply have to fill in a form and you will be able to have the drug within a few days. Your specialist should be able to tell you how long it is likely to take. 

If your doctor has to make an individual application to the CDF panel, the NHS Commissioning Board say that the Panel will usually respond within 10 days. They recognise that it is important to make these decisions as quickly as possible because they are usually for people who are seriously ill. 


Coping if you can’t have a particular drug

If you are unable to have the drug you want, you are likely to be very disappointed. It can be difficult to come to terms with. You may feel a range of emotions including anger. It can help to talk to your specialist about why funding was turned down.

It may also be worth speaking to your specialist about whether there are any other treatments you can have. There are often trials of new experimental treatments going on and you may be able to take part in one of them. Our clinical trials database has a list of trials both open and closed. There is also information about different types of trials and about taking part in a trial.

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Updated: 13 January 2015