Cancer drugs fund poorly managed and over budget, MPs say

NHS England must make 'tough decisions' to stop unacceptable and unsustainable overspending on the cancer drugs fund, MPs on the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) have warned.

MPs branded it ‘unacceptable’ that the DH and NHS England are still unable to properly assess the benefits the cancer drugs fund has made to patients, despite it running for five years and costs soaring over this period.

The committee concluded on Friday that the fund has not been managed effectively and is unsustainable in its current form.

The fund was established in 2010 to improve access to cancer drugs that would not otherwise be routinely available on the NHS. It has helped ensure 80,000 patients receive the drugs they need.

But the DH and NHS England do not have the data they need to assess the scheme’s effect on patient outcomes nor to demonstrate whether the fund is an effective use of taxpayers’ money, the PAC said.

Cancer drugs fund

The scheme’s budget more than doubled from £175m in 2012/13 to £416m in 2014/15, but the PAC warned that NHS England did not take swift enough action to take control of costs.

The fund went on to overspend its £480m budget for the two years of 2013/14 and 2014/15 by £167m.

NHS England must be prepared to make ‘tough decisions’ to ensure the fund does not overspend again, MPs warned.

PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: ‘The cancer drugs fund has enabled thousands of people to receive drugs not normally available to them through the NHS. While this is welcome, it’s also clear the fund requires significant and urgent reform if it is to be sustainable.

Overspending public money

‘A vital step in addressing the financial challenges must be to properly evaluate the health benefits of drugs provided through the fund.

‘We will be closely monitoring the progress made by the DH and NHS England in the months ahead.’

An NHS England spokeswoman said: ‘This report comes just a day after new independent figures showing the NHS' great success in improving cancer care and survival rates for patients across England.

‘While we welcome the Committee's support for a redesigned cancer drugs fund, we hope their explicit call for cuts to  cancer drugs prices charged to the cancer drugs fund will be borne in mind as complex decisions on its future are taken in the next few months.’

NHS England and NICE are consulting on proposals to overhaul the fund from April this year.

Photo: Robin Hammond

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