The Department of Health Moves to Secure Quicker Access to Cancer Drugs Fund

The Department of Health has issued new guidance on the Cancer Drugs Fund which, it says, should help National Health Service patients in England gain much faster access to innovative medicines.

Launching the new guidance earlier this week, Health Minister Lord Howe commented that applications to the Fund will now no longer have to go through primary care trust funding processes, resulting in significantly speeding up the process.

As a result, in the majority of cases, patients will now be able to get access to cancer drugs within days of applying, the Department of Health notes.

Lord Howe also announced plans for an audit of the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), “which will provide evidence from drugs funded through the Fund for the benefit of wider NHS practice.”

According to the Department of Health, the audit will assist in supporting the effective provision of funding, ensure the funding is being in used in accordance with local arrangements, and improve the proof on how these drugs perform in real-world clinical practice.

Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) will be expected to provide prospective data from April 2012 and retrospective data to April 2011.

The Cancer Drugs Fund is the idea of the UK coalition government and was created to confront the country’s comparatively low standing on access to the newest cancer drugs.  The £200 million a year fund allows cancer patients to gain the medicines considered most suitable by their clinicians, thereby side-stepping the usual cost-effectiveness.

£60 million underspent?

However, yesterday the Daily Mail reported that a large chunk of the cash available under the Fund has not yet been accessed.  It claims that money is still available in all regions in England and that more than £60 million has been underspent, mainly because of bureaucratic hurdles facing those trying to access the Fund.

According to the paper, North West SHA has around £20 million untouched from allocation of £29.6 million, while, at the end of February, London had spent around £19 million of its £30.4 million portion.

It is hoped that the new advice issued by the government will help to address the problem.  However, Kate Spall, who runs campaign group the Pamela Northcott Fund, commented that while it’s “a great step forward to allow doctors to go directly to the Fund…we need to know why a postcode lottery still exists.”

“Some oncologists and GPs know very little about the fund while others have been deterred from applying for various reasons,” she added.

Around 10,000 patients in England have had drugs funded through the system during the past 18 months, including the six-month operation of an interim drugs fund.

Each Strategic Health Authority has between £9million and £30million to spend on cancer drugs, depending on population size.

The level of underspend for the first full year of the fund is almost £62million based on SHA website figures and year-end estimates.


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