Cancer patients in Britain may die sooner as drugs cutbacks are imposed

Twenty-five drugs, including some given to bowel and breast cancer patients, scrapped from list of 84 drugs previously paid for by Cancer Drugs Fund fund, in bid to save £80m

A cervical cancer cell:  nearly 55,000 patients have been covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund since it was introduced in 2010 by the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats’ coalition

A cervical cancer cell: nearly 55,000 patients have been covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund since it was introduced in 2010 by the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats’ coalition

 

Cancer patients may die sooner following a decision by the National Health Service in England to stop paying for more than two dozen drugs because they cost too much and were not prolonging patients’ lives for long enough, doctors and campaigners warned last night,

Nearly 55,000 patients have been covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund since it was introduced in 2010 by the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats’ coalition, although critics have argued that it gave drugs companies a licence to raise prices.

Twenty-five drugs, including some which have been given to people with bowel and breast cancer, have been scrapped from a list of 84 drugs previously paid for by the fund, in a bid to save £80 million.

The fund’s head, Prof Peter Clark, said it “simply cannot go on” paying for drugs that did not offer “sufficient clinical benefits”, although a number of drugs that offered some benefits to patients have stayed on the list because companies have cut prices.

The fund’s spending will rise to £280 million this year and £340 million next year, and would have jumped to £420 million by the end of April 2016 if action had not been taken now to bring costs under control, NHS England said.

One campaign group, Beating Bowel Cancer, said hundreds of patients now face an earlier death because the fund had helped to increase survival rates from eight to 30 months for those with advanced forms of the disease.

“Doctors will be forced to tell their patients there are treatments that can prolong their lives but they will no longer be available,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Mark Flannagan.

Despite the cutbacks, four new drugs have been added to the list, including Panitumumab to treat bowel cancer and Ibrutinib, used against mantle cell lymphoma and against chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Expressing concern about the decision, Prof Chris Bunce, research director at the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said it represented “a dramatic step backwards”, given that the cost of the drugs was “actually relatively low” given the total NHS budget.

Pharma companies should provide better information about their drugs, said Prof Lesley Fallowfield of the University of Sussex, adding that the new list included “surprising exclusions and inclusions”.

“I can see why desperate patients, their families and clinicians are outraged,” she said. Decisions about the best use of budgets in a world of “infinite demands” are unlikely when all political parties want to present themselves “as the most cancer patient-friendly”, she added.