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UK Government accused of withholding cancer drugs from the NHS to save money

Published on 27/02/2012

A leading cancer specialist and the head of Britain’s biggest drugs company have accused the government of ‘systematically’ delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs on the NHS in order to save money.

Professor Jonathan Waxman, of Imperial College London, said that innovative drugs were being held back as part of an ill-conceived attempt to cut costs.

Describing the situation as a disaster, he said a number of new cancer drugs had been blocked for use on the NHS by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

And Sir Andrew Witty, from drugs company GlaxoSmithKline, told the BBC: "We're seeing oncology drugs being systematically delayed from introduction and reimbursement.

"We're seeing a variety of the more innovative, and yes more expensive medicines, being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe."

"Ultimately it's one of those situations where the drift will be imperceptibly happening, but when you look back in five or 10 years, a huge gap will have opened up."

Ministers have rejected these claims- the Department of Health said the approval process was getting faster and it had increased spending on new drugs.

However, some drugs like Avastin and Abiraterone have been turned down for use on the NHS by NICE for not being cost-effective, despite being licensed for use in the UK.

Avastin is licensed for use on breast cancers, colon cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, kidney cancers, lung cancers, ovarian cancer and rectal cancer. Although Avastin is licensed and can be prescribed in the UK, it has not been approved for use on the NHS because it is not considered cost-effective.

Consequently, the drug is only available through the Cancer Drugs Fund or through private medical insurance. Self-pay patients would be set back around £21,000 for a course of Avastin.

Abiraterone is a hormone based therapy drug which blocks the generation of testosterone in the tumours of men with late-stage prostate cancer. Trials of abiraterone found that it extended a patient’s life by an average of 4 months.

Although it was licensed for use in the UK, NICE has decided that the drug is too expensive for use in the NHS in England. Abiraterone is now only available through the Cancer Drugs Fund or private medical insurance. Self-pay patients pay around £3,000 a month for treatment with Abiraterone.

Compare health insurance policies online now to make sure you don’t miss out on lifesaving drugs because of the UK’s financial crisis.

© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012

Categories:  NHS and Hospitals
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