50m interim fund to improve access to cancer drugs

In collaboration with Adfero

The government has announced a new £50 million fund to improve access to cancer drugs until the new Cancer Drugs Fund comes into effect in April 2011.

From October, the additional funding will be made available to help patients get access to innovative new cancer drugs, which may extend or improve the quality of their life. The fund will provide money for drugs that have been recommended for patients by their doctors.

It is unclear exactly how this fund will work in practice. In principle, doctors will take responsibility for deciding how the funding is spent for individual patients, based on advice from cancer specialists.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley announced the fund after a new report on international variations in drug usage was published. The report, by national cancer director Professor Sir Mike Richards, found that the UK's uptake of new drugs lags behind other European countries.

"Usage of new cancer drugs is relatively low in comparison with international averages," said Professor Richards, "and I therefore welcome the additional £50 million being made available this year for cancer drugs.

"This will mean that cancer patients will begin to benefit from new drugs now in advance of the main Cancer Drugs Fund which will start from April next year."

Mr Lansley noted that the uptake of cancer drugs was at odds with the level of cancer research carried out in the UK. He said: "It's a scandal that we are strong in cancer research and participation in clinical trials in the UK, yet NHS patients aren't always seeing the benefits from the research swiftly enough.

"Patients should have access to innovative cancer drugs that can extend or improve their quality of life and which their doctors have recommended, which is why I'm determined to take action now."

Hilary Tovey, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Anything that helps patients get drugs faster is welcome. We know that the UK has a low uptake of new drugs compared to other countries, and hope that this new fund will help address this.

"We look forward to seeing more detail about how the fund will work in practice and we will be monitoring its impact. We want to ensure that all cancer patients are getting the treatments which might benefit them."