NHS watchdog NICE acting against government advice, says cancer group
Patients are being denied access to drugs for rarer cancers because the NHS treatment watchdog is acting contrary to the recommendations of a government inquiry, a report claims today.
Analysis by the Rarer Cancers Forum (RCF) suggests that the National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (NICE) is “failing to follow the spirit” of guidelines designed to improve access to end-of-life cancer treatments.
It claims that as many as 16,000 patients have been denied access to drugs because the watchdog had concluded unfairly that they did not meet the criteria for consideration, or they were deemed too expensive — without proper negotiation with pharmaceutical companies.
The report, Exceptional Progress?, looks at improvements to treatment access for people with rarer cancers following a review carried out by Sir Mike Richards, the Government’s national clinical director for cancer.
Sir Mike’s review was prompted by complaints from patients who were denied NHS care after having paid privately for treatment. The Government subsequently lifted the ban on so-called “top-up payments” and said that cancer drugs that were more expensive than NICE normally allowed, but which could offer patients a few more months of life, should be considered.
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the RCF, said that although progress had been made in improving access to treatments since the publication of the review, there were still serious shortfalls which required urgent review.
“It is unacceptable that many thousands of patients are still missing out on the treatment they need, and which their doctors want to give them, because NICE has decided that their treatment does not meet some arbitrary criteria,” Mr Wilson said.
He added that NICE was failing to assess drugs quickly enough — taking 21 months to appraise new cancer drugs, rather than the six months promised by ministers by 2010.
Until the Richards review, NICE would not approve drugs that cost more than £30,000 to £40,000 for a year of good quality life. The ceiling has since been raised to £80,000.
Sir Andrew Dillon, NICE chief executive, said the watchdog had, in conjunction with the Department of Health, introduced “significant additional latitude in its appraisal of treatments, particularly where they are designed to extend life, at the end of life. NICE and the Department of Health are working together to assess ‘patient access schemes’ – proposals from companies for ways of managing the entry of expensive new treatments into the NHS by sharing some of the costs, and the Innovation Pass – a scheme to support a small number of promising new drugs with funding at a national level.”
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