60m promised to cancer victims hasn't been spent: Patients 'having to jump through hoops' to get drugs they need
00:16 GMT, 23 April 2012
Controversial: The flagship fund set up by the Government to provide life-extending drugs for cancer sufferers is millions of pounds underspent while patients still face red tape in trying to get treatment
The flagship fund set up by the Government to provide life-extending drugs for cancer sufferers is millions of pounds underspent while patients still face red tape in trying to get treatment.
Almost 200million was allocated to the Cancer Drugs Fund during the financial year April 2011 to March 2012, yet figures suggest in some areas less than one third of the money has been spent.
None of the ten regions which administer the fund has spent all the money made available. It is estimated more than 60million is still waiting to be allocated.
And campaigners claim cancer patients are still having to ‘jump through hoops’ to get drugs their doctors say they need.
Moves to speed up the process will be announced this week by the Department of Health. Ministers pledged the extra funding to pay for drugs banned by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the NHS rationing body, as too expensive for the NHS.
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.
But it has worked less well in some regions, which administer the fund through clinically led panels set up by ten regional Strategic Health Authorities.
Each SHA 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.
North West SHA appears to have the biggest underspend, with around 20million left from its allocation of 29.6million. In London, around 19million had been spent by the end of February, out of 30.4million.
Other SHAs were between 2million and 9million underspent, yet most applications are approved.
Some SHAs have drawn up lists for fast-track automatic approval including the most popular drugs, Avastin for bowel cancer and Abiraterone for prostate cancer.
Worrying: Sally Young, a cancer sufferer, has been struggling to get hold of cancer drugs
Specialists can apply directly for
funding for individual patients. But in other areas they have to first
apply for exceptional funding from the local Primary Care Trusts,
despite knowing it will be turned down and they will have to then go to
the Cancer Drugs Fund.
In future PCTs will be told they should not insist on patients applying to them first.
Instead Department of Health guidance will make clear that doctors can make their initial approach for treatment via the Cancer Drugs Fund.
Kate Spall, who runs the Pamela Northcott Fund named after her mother who got a kidney cancer drug too late to benefit, and has acted as advocate for scores of cancer patients, said: ‘The bureaucracy has added to the stress and worry for patients made to jump through hoops at the worst possible time.
‘This is a great step forward to allow doctors to go directly to the Fund, it’s a positive move.
‘But 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.
‘A significant proportion of the Fund is going unspent yet patients are still being turned down or having to pay privately.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘Our priority is to ensure cancer patients get the drugs their doctor believes are best for them.
Life-extending: Some Strategic Health Authorities have drawn up lists for fast-track automatic approval for the most popular drugs, including Avastin
'We will issue new guidance on the Cancer Drugs Fund which will further speed up applications as they will not normally need to go through the PCT funding processes prior to applying to the Fund.
'This will ensure patients get the fastest possible access to the drugs they need.
‘We will also undertake an audit of the Cancer Drugs Fund, which will provide evidence from drugs funded through the Fund for the benefit of wider NHS practice.
‘We always said the amount made available for the Fund was an estimate based on what we expected demand to be, and we wanted to make sure there was more than sufficient funding, which clearly there has been.’