Cancer fund betrayal: It promised 200m for vital drugs, but millions haven”t been spent – and patients are paying the price
Patients being turned down in underspent regions – with some funding their own drugs
The flagship fund set up by the Government to provide life-extending drugs for cancer sufferers is millions of pounds underspent while patients are still being rejected for treatment.
Almost 200million was allocated to the Cancer Drugs Fund during this financial year yet alarming figures show that in some areas less than one-fifth of money has been spent.
One of the biggest culprits is the region covering the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency in Oxfordshire. Only 1.6million out of 9.3million – around 17 per cent – had been spent in the South Central strategic health authority area from April to the end of November.
Outraged: Tory MP Pauline Latham (left) said two patients spent thousands of pounds of their own money on treatment while Andrew Lansley (right) was among the ministers who pledged extra funding to pay for drugs banned
Postcode lottery: Patients are being denied access to drugs like Avastin (pictured), with some even funding treatment themselves
In other underspent regions cancer patients are being turned down, with some having to fund their own drugs. The Rarer Cancers Foundation charity has warned that the fund is simply another postcode lottery.
Tory MP Pauline Latham was outraged that the East Midlands panel of the Cancer Drugs Fund has decided not to approve treatments given the go ahead by seven other strategic health authorities, although a third of its budget – 4.3million – is unspent.
Two patients in her constituency of Mid Derbyshire denied access to the drug Avastin for bowel cancer have spent thousands of pounds of their own money on treatment. One is ‘living proof it works because she has been taking it for two years’, Mrs Latham told MPs during a debate last week.
They were turned down because Avastin was the first drug they were treated with – protocol said it had to be the second drug and then the NHS would have paid for it.
Mrs Latham said she was ‘appalled at the way those patients are being treated’ and had asked for the decision to be reviewed weeks ago, yet this still had not been done.
‘The Cancer Drugs Fund was set up to stop this kind of lottery,’ she added. ‘In my area, it is not fit for purpose and is not working for the benefit of patients.’
Campaigners fear that millions of pounds meant to ease the suffering of cancer patients will disappear to pay off NHS debts. If the funding set aside this year is not used, there is no guarantee it will be earmarked for cancer patients next year.
The funding from the Department of Health covers England only and is administered by clinically led panels set up by ten strategic health authorities.
Each has different amounts to spend on cancer drugs, ranging from around 9million to 30million, depending on population size.
Only North East SHA says it will spend its entire allocation of 11million by next April. Two others are going to spend half, while the remainder have so far spent between 14 per cent and 66 per cent.
Ministers pledged extra funding to pay for drugs banned by Nice, the NHS rationing body. Andrew Lansley, then Tory health spokesman, said on the day before the 2010 General Election: ‘We will ensure through our new Cancer Drugs Fund that patients will be able to get the drugs that their doctors say they need. That is what patients expect and deserve.’
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, said: ‘ thousands of patients will have gained access to treatments through the Cancer Drugs Fund, yet a significant proportion of the fund is going unspent.
‘There is ample money available to pay for the cancer drugs which clinicians believe will benefit their patients. We are calling on strategic health authorities to use this money for its intended purpose, to improve access to cancer treatments and ultimately improve cancer outcomes.’
Health Minister Simon Burns said: ‘It is vital that patients, no matter where they live, have access to the cancer drugs so they can spend precious extra time with their loved ones.
‘Since October last year, we have committed to making 650million available through the Cancer Drugs Fund that has so far helped over 7,500 patients access cancer drugs recommended by their doctors.
“If SHAs have met the clinical need in their area for cancer drugs then technically they could use any underspend on other areas, but we are clear that this is money marked for cancer drugs and would expect it to be carried forward into the next year’s Cancer Drugs Fund.’
East Midlands SHA said it had given Mrs Latham ‘an undertaking to report back from the latest discussions with clinicians about the funding of Avastin by the Cancer Drugs Fund’.
South Central SHA said: ‘Since April 2011 until the end of November 2011, the South Central fund has received 493 applications of which 416 have been approved, 26 have been declined and the remaining have been withdrawn or are pending a decision.’