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.

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