NHS patients are missing out on new cancer treatments because health chiefs are failing to negotiate better prices for drugs, two leading cancer charities have warned.
Today’s report by Breast Cancer Now and Prostate Cancer UK, which reviewed drug availability in Britain compared to countries of similar wealth, found that Germany, France, Sweden, Australia and Canada all provide a better range of therapies.
It said the inability of the UK’s drug commissioning bodies to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies was depriving patients of life-sustaining drugs, and called on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to radically reform the system.
The report pointed out that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body that approves drugs for NHS use in England and Wales, has not approved a new breast cancer drug for routine use on the NHS in the last seven years.
It also raises concerns over bringing the new Cancer Drugs Fund back into the hands of NICE, as repeated rejections of new treatments was one of the principal reasons for setting up the fund in the first place.
In many other countries a panel of medical experts will assess the clinical merits of a new drug before handing over to a second team of government officials who will negotiate a price with manufacturers.
In Britain, however, NICE and its counterpart the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), assess both the clinical effectiveness of a drug and also its cost-effectiveness, but do not have the power to haggle over price.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now, said the report demonstrated the need for serious reform.
“That NHS patients are being denied access to innovative new breast cancer drugs, while other countries are finding ways to make them available, is totally unacceptable,” she said.
“Pharmaceutical companies must indeed start offering more responsible prices.
“But until our health bodies are empowered to negotiate the price of cancer drugs, patients in the UK will continue to miss out.”
NICE Chief Executive Sir Andrew Dillon said it was pharmaceutical companies which hold the key to new treatments by pricing them more affordably.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are committed to getting the best cancer drugs to patients as quickly as possible at a price that is a good deal for the taxpayer and, as the largest single purchaser of drugs in the world, the NHS very often achieves that, though there is always more work to do.”
Henry Bodkin 16 August 2016