Cancer drugs a postcode lottery?

Andrew RT Davies says Welsh Cancer patients suffer in the absence of a cancer treatment fund.

It is a sad but inevitable truth that almost all of our lives will at some point be touched by cancer – either as a result of our own health, or that of a loved one. Here in Wales more than 16,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year and, based on current trends, by 2030 almost 7% of the population will either be living with – or after – cancer.

Last week my Welsh Conservative colleagues Darren Millar and Nick Ramsay met with campaigners to accept a petition calling for the introduction of a cancer drugs fund in Wales. The petition had more than 98,000 signatures.

In England, the Conservative-led coalition established Cancer Drug Fund (CDF) provides an additional £200m each year to enable patients to access drugs not routinely funded by the NHS. The fund provides English patients with access to around 80 cancer drugs, a staggering 72 of which are not available to Welsh patients.

This summer my party undertook a survey of the Welsh NHS and I was alarmed by the number of Welsh patients who described their experience of being denied access to vital life-prolonging drugs such as Avastin.

One respondent, Elizabeth Richards of Ogmore, spoke movingly of her failure to access the drug via the Welsh NHS. 12 months ago she applied for Avastin and was turned down leaving her family with no choice but to take on the cost of her treatment – which amounts to two injections a month, at £1000 a time. To date, the family have spent £25,000 of their life savings to fund her on-going treatment. That money is now running out.

And what of those patients in Wales who cannot afford to fund their own treatment? Miss Richards is far from alone in being denied access to life extending medicines. In fact, when the Prime Minister recently described Offa’s Dyke as “the line between life and death” he might well have been referring to outcomes for Welsh cancer patients.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Labour Government’s refusal to introduce a cancer treatment fund in Wales is pure politics. An unwillingness to acknowledge the success of an idea which emanated from a Conservative-led Westminster Government.

The Rarer Cancers Foundation has estimated that in the year to date more than half of Welsh cancer patients have had their ‘Individual Patient Funding Request’ applications rejected. Compare this to the fact that fewer than 4% of applications to the English Cancer Drugs Fund are rejected and it’s easy to see that Welsh patients are getting a raw deal.

And it’s not just the Rarer Cancers Foundation which has flagged up these inequities. Research by Bristol University has concluded that Welsh patients are seven times less likely to have access to some cancer drugs than in England.

We believe that a Welsh cancer treatment fund could be established for around £5m a year. Welsh Labour say they cannot afford it.

Last year the Welsh Labour Government spent £4.5m dispensing Paracetamol under their free prescriptions policy. They also spent a staggering £8.5m refurbishing their opulent Cardiff offices. That figure included £3.7m on new furniture, £900,000 on new computers, and a £7,000 75 inch flatscreen TV.

Meanwhile Rome burns…

Welsh Labour last week accused us of offering “false hope” to cancer patients. I believe that this postcode lottery is a scandal which must be reversed and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with those campaigning for a level playing field in Wales.

Andrew RT Davies is the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

5 thoughts on “Cancer drugs a postcode lottery?

  1. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has taken the position that bevacizumab (Avastin) should not be funded by the NHS because it costs nearly £21,000 per patient but has only minimal benefit in many cancers. It’s heartbreaking, but it is a fact that all health systems ration. The money that would be spent on these drugs would not come from Welsh Labour’s office refurbishment budget, it would have to be taken away from other treatments that may work better. Unless of course the Welsh Conservatives are willing to go back on their ‘low tax economy’ plans.

    I’m sure I’ll here a lot about the NHS from all quarters in the next few years, but ultimately I trust the clinical staff working in and around the service. The tasteless scare tactic of a fake line between life and death isn’t going to change that, and I’m disappointed that Andrew R.T. Davies feels the need to buy into it.

  2. Devolving NHS to a body that has no depth of any significance in terms of its ‘grey matter content’ and politicians with tribal priorities and min-set it was a disaster in the making and not only for the Welsh NHS but Welsh Education too. Long overdue to return Welsh NHS and English Medium Education to Westminster management and control!?

  3. Glasnost, I fear you are in danger of losing your audience. Your unreflective contempt for Wales and all things Welsh biases your comments and makes them predictable and uninteresting.

  4. Judging by the press coverage over the last 24 hours the policy of a cancer drugs fund is coming apart at the seams. As The Guardian reports:

    “All parties agree the fund is unsustainable in its current form. In effect it undermines the value-for-money judgments that Nice makes on cancer drugs and its existence removes the incentive for a pharmaceutical company to agree a price drop.”

  5. Hendre does us a service by drawing attention to Westminster’s review of its own Central Drugs Fund and even more helpfully reminds us of the power of Big Pharma in health expenditures worldwide.
    James Gallagher, Health editor of the BBC News website, commented on 12 November (BBC News website: “Cancer Drugs Fund to be restricted – says NHS”):
    ‘Cancer charities say they are “deeply concerned” at moves to restrict medicines available through a special fund set up by the prime minster.
    The Cancer Drugs Fund was a key part of David Cameron’s 2010 election campaign.
    It gives patients in England access to effective treatments deemed too expensive for hospitals to fund.
    More than 40 drugs, around half the total, will be reviewed in mid-December as new rules on cost-effectiveness are introduced by NHS England.
    Six drugs in danger of being removed from the list of accepted medicines are for breast cancer.
    They include Kadcyla, which extends life by an average of six months and costs £90,000 a course as well as drugs such as Avastin.’
    On 6 November, BBC Business Reporter, Richard Anderson, also ran an interesting piece (“Pharmaceutical industry gets high on fat profits”). It’s worth a look!
    Meanwhile, it’s also worth running “Cuban biotech” through your search engine, if only to get some insight into a state-owned biotech industry (and healthcare sector generally) with a totally different ethos and set of priorities!
    Wales has a biotech sector. With 5% of UK population, 10% of UK biotech and life sciences are based in Wales. The power of Big Pharma has a relevance for us too in terms of public policy and partnerships with public institutions like our Universities and health trusts .

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