Improving access to medicines

Dr Rick Greville examines the party proposals for funding new medicines.

Following the publication of all the main party manifestos in Wales, there has been widespread support for the commitments to additional funding for innovative medicines. This encouragement has not just been from those of us directly involved in making the case for greater access, but from the wider health sector in Wales, who recognise the importance and benefits from improving consistency and equity of access to medicines in the next Assembly.

Manifesto focus

Ahead of the Assembly Elections, Click on Wales has profiled some of Wales’ leading organisation’s ‘big asks’ for politics and policy in the fifth assembly.

 We have been posting each of the pieces in our ‘manifesto series’ category, which you can keep up to date with here.

Despite undoubtedly important steps having been taken in the last few years, such as the increasing involvement of both patients and clinicians in the assessment of medicines to treat rare diseases – known as orphan and ultra-orphan medicines – or the attempts to standardise local decision making on the funding of medicines not routinely provided by the NHS – Individual Patient Funding Requests – it has also been clear to many and especially those seeking access to some of the most innovative medicines, that more should, and could be done.

This expectation for improved routine access to medicines has been a consistent plea from the Welsh public. The annual YouGov survey for the Welsh NHS Confederation*, documenting public perception and experience of NHS Wales, has found that the public clearly prioritise “Access to the latest medicines” alongside other high profile issues like the quality of care and shorter waiting times for hospital treatment and GP appointments.

That’s why this round of manifesto commitments on access to medicines has been so welcome to all concerned. It captures not only the cultural support for the use of innovation in our NHS, but reflects the political will by all parties to ensure this is funded.

In its manifesto published two weeks ago, Labour pledged to “introduce a New Treatment Fund to give people in Wales fast access to new and innovative treatments for all life-threatening conditions”. This was echoed in a recent interview with ITV Wales, when Carwyn Jones committed £80 million pound to fund and deliver on this ambition.

A similar funding promise from Plaid Cymru, originally announced last autumn, commits to establishing a “£50 million New Medicines and Treatments Fund for Wales”, and then goes further to outline their intention to create “National Specialist Panels to assess individual patient access to various new drugs and treatments.”

The Liberal Democrats outline a commitment to “extending the Health Technologies Fund to support the take up of new medicines and establish a new Office of Life Sciences”. This pledge looks not only to funding of today’s medicines, but also to ensuring appropriate access to the next generation of medicines, gearing Wales towards a leading role in the adoption of medicines targeted through genomic testing.

The approach from the Welsh Conservatives is to commit to “a £100 million Cancer Patients’ Fund for Wales” in part to “improve access to modern cancer drugs.” To avoid any inequity of access to new medicines between cancer patients and those with other diseases we will continue to encourage that any fund concentrate on the needs of patients, regardless of their diagnosis.

In their manifesto, UKIP draw on some of the tenets of Prudent Healthcare by committing to “seek to equalise the availability of drugs for Welsh patients” and “Reduce inappropriate variation using evidence based practices consistently and transparently”.

We welcome the clear commitments made across all manifestos, to invest in accelerating improvements to NHS research and clinical trial performance in Wales. Alongside the last government’s commitment to the development of a strategy for the next generation of personalised or precision medicines, Labour commits to “Drive inward investment, innovation… through support for the growing life sciences sector in Wales”; Plaid’s plans to invest in “digital technology” and “targets for enrolling patients in clinical trials”; the Conservatives’ commitment to increasing funding for “research into new treatments for heart disease, stroke and dementia”; and the Liberal Democrats proposal to develop of “an innovation strategy to maximise the opportunities for universities and the private sector to create wealth together” all show an ambition for the future of both the health and wealth of Wales.

Again these commitments reflect well the Welsh public support and understanding of the benefits of research and clinical trial involvement captured by the annual YouGov survey – where 82% of respondents believed it was important that patients were encouraged to participate in research for the development of new therapies and medicines – up 5% since 2014.

Whoever makes up the next Welsh Government it must continue to drive and support the Welsh public ambition for improved health by delivering tangible improvements in health service provision. As the trade association representing the makers and researchers of innovative medicines, we are delighted to see enough common ground, commitment and political will amongst the manifestos to be expectant that a new medicines fund will be developed. What will be important in May, once the dust has settled and Wales has made its decision, is that the processes used to access this fund are open, equitable and transparent, and the ABPI stands ready to support and work with the next Welsh Government to ensure its delivery.

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,049 adults in Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th – 8th January 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+). YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council.

Dr Rick Greville is Director of ABPI Cymru Wales.

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