Report shows unacceptably high variations in access to cancer drugs across the UK

  • Report shows “unacceptably high” variations in access to cancer drugs across the country
  • Department of Health knows too little about what is happening at local level
  • Vital issue of accountability and enforcement of NICE guidance unresolved
  • Cancer patients still vulnerable to postcode prescribing
  • Cancer information charity CancerBACUP welcomes today’s report into variations of usage of cancer drugs (postcode prescribing) issued by the Department of Health but says the vital issue of accountability and enforcement has been left unresolved, leaving patients still vulnerable to postcode prescribing.  CancerBACUP’s release of data on the breast cancer drug Herceptin last October prompted the Department of Health investigation.

    Department of Health recommendations that local health bodies such as Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts should have information and support to inform their planning for and usage of cancer drugs are welcomed by CancerBACUP but the charity says it’s not enough to ensure cancer patients have access to the drugs they need.  Today’s recommendations do not address the issue of who is responsible for the monitoring, implementation and enforcement of guidance issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).  CancerBACUP has called for the new Healthcare Commission, set up to enforce national standards in healthcare, to fulfil this role.

    CancerBACUP also welcomes Department of Health plans to track implementation of NICE guidance, but says the information should be made publicly available to patients so they can assess how their local area is performing.

     “It was extraordinary that the Department of Health didn’t know if cancer patients were receiving drugs recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence,” says Derryn Borley, Head of Cancer Support Services at CancerBACUP.  “This report confirms what worried patients tell us when they call our helpline and reinforces the findings we released last October revealing postcode prescribing across the UK on the breast cancer drug Herceptin. The government must now put systems in place to ensure such an investigation never has to happen again.  The Healthcare Commission should be responsible for auditing and enforcing NICE guidance and the information must be available to patients.”

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