Criticism mounts over 'opportunistic' cancer drug fund

The government's cancer drug fund is an example of 'political opportunism and intellectual incoherence', according to The Lancet.

Dr Beeby: fund questionably fair
Dr Beeby: fund questionably fair

In a stinging editorial published on Friday, The Lancet condemned the policy for undermining the role of NICE and ‘the entire concept of a rational and evidence-based approach’ to resource allocation.

It comes after Dr Bill Beeby, chairman of the GPC prescribing subcommittee, told GP newspaper the fund was questionably fair and could run out.

‘Is it fair to have an organisation called NICE, which is supposed to make that assessment, and then find that pressure on the government leads to a special fund for some people?’ he said.

Under the plans, clinicians can appeal to a regional SHA panel, which holds a portion of the drug fund, if a patient is declined a drug on cost effectiveness grounds.

The Lancet editorial said this regional body will instill a regional bias and lead to a postcode lottery on successful funding, depending on whether the SHA has exhausted its drugs fund budget.

‘Scratch the surface, and it quickly becomes clear that what this fund represents is not the victory for patient groups that some believe,’ it said.

Drug provision in other disease areas such as dementia and multiple sclerosis was ranked equally as low, an accompanying report by National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards showed. But at present have not been given their own fund, the editorial noted.

‘Presumably emergency funds for dementia and multiple sclerosis drugs will be announced in due course – anything else would be intellectually indefensible,’ it said.

News blog: Cancer fund is compassionate, but is it fair?

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