Clarity over Cancer Drugs Fund should be 'a priority'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Charities have asked for clarification on how patients in England will access certain life-extending treatments when the Cancer Drugs Fund expires next year.

The fund, worth £200m a year, was set up by the Government in April 2011 to pay for cancer drugs that have not been approved for widespread use on the NHS in England by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

This is generally because NICE has not yet scrutinised the drugs (for instance, if they're still being tested in clinical trials), or because it's  deemed them insufficiently effective or too expensive.

Heather Walker, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "The Cancer Drugs Fund has allowed more than 28,000 patients to get treatment they may not have otherwise had".

"The Government needs to find long term, sustainable solutions to fund all effective cancer treatments - be they drugs, radiotherapy or surgery - so that patients are given the best care possible.

The scheme is set to run until 2014, when it will be replaced by a new cancer drug-pricing scheme called Value-Based Pricing, which is intended to make a greater variety of drugs more widely available.

"The Fund is due to close next year and it's crucial that cancer patients don't lose out. So the Department Of Health should publish details of the new Value-Based Pricing system - and what will happen to the Cancer Drugs Fund - as a priority," she added.

Beating Bowel Cancer's chief executive Mark Flannagan argued the fund had improved access to vital medicines for thousands of bowel cancer patients and had saved or extended the lives of many.

"The uncertainty around how these drugs will be funded in the years to come will mean patients who could benefit from having treatment in the future, may be denied access because the money isn't there to fund it," Mr Flannagan added.

The calls came as health officials announced that measures would be taken to reduce the regional variations in access to the fund, which currently .

There will be one national list of approved fast-track drugs which will give "uniform access" to treatments across the country, NHS England said.

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said the new system meant that more people would benefit from the fund.

"This is a national levelling up of the number of approved treatments that are available under the Cancer Drugs Fund," he added.

"It is really important that we stretch every penny of the Cancer Drugs Fund so we get maximum benefit to the most people we possibly can."

Copyright Press Association 2013