NHS in Wales to fund four kidney cancer drugs pending NICE approval

In collaboration with the Press Association

Patients with kidney cancer in Wales are to have access to four life-prolonging drugs on the NHS, even though the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is yet to approve them, health minister Edwina Hart has announced.

NICE does not currently recommend sunitinib (Sutent), Bevacizumab (Avastin), sorafenib (Nexavar) or temsirolimus (Torisel) for use in advanced renal (kidney) cancer, but is considering the evidence for the drugs and was expected to issue guidance this month.

This decision has now been put back to March, dismaying people with kidney cancer who may benefit from the drugs.

- Catherine Foot, head of policy, Cancer Research UK

Welsh health ministers have therefore decided to introduce a system so that patients have greater access to the four drugs pending NICE's guidance.

Ms Hart said: "At the end of last year, NICE announced that in the future they would apply different financial criteria for drugs used towards the end of life, and the drugs used for advanced kidney cancer might reasonably come into this category.

"This has raised expectations for those patients in whom the drugs are currently not available through the NHS. I think it is unacceptable for these patients to be kept waiting any longer and I am instructing local health boards to provide these drugs for kidney cancer to appropriate patients with immediate effect."

Ms Hart noted that, while the temporary measure is in place, each request for funding should be supported by two cancer specialists and stressed that the arrangement only applies to the four kidney cancer drugs.

She added: "I have decided to put it in place in order to allay the anxiety felt by patients and their relatives during this interim period."

Catherine Foot, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "We're pleased that patients who have been made to wait for these life-extending drugs are now able to get them in Wales. It's unacceptable that patients who have few treatment options are being denied clinically effective drugs that could add up to three months to their lives.

"But it's important to remember that this is a temporary measure, and we hope that patients who take up this opportunity are fully informed about the possible outcomes."

Ms Foot added: "Although NICE are expected to make a decision on these drugs soon, it must improve the speed with which it makes its decisions - especially for drugs that could be extending people's lives."