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Cancer Drugs

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

In 2008, Professor Sir Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, was asked to lead a review of the extent and causes of international variations in drug usage and provide a report. Professor Richard’ report has been in the Library of the House and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

I would like to thank Professor Richards and his advisory group for their work on the report. They have undertaken a thorough review, which represents the most comprehensive analysis yet of the extent and potential causes of international variations in medicines usage.

The report explores the extent and causes of international variations in drug usage across 14 countries, including the United Kingdom, for a range of conditions and diseases. The report indicates that there are wide international variations in usage of most of the drugs included in the study. Although a few countries emerge as generally high or low users, there does not appear to be a uniform pattern across disease areas.

As with most of the countries studied, usage levels in the UK appear mixed when looking across the range of conditions. It does however show high levels of use in some important areas, for example of lipid-regulating drugs which are helping to prevent many deaths from cardiovascular disease.

One of the more concerning findings in the report relates to our usage of newer cancer drugs, which lags behind that of most of the countries studied. The findings in this report make it even more important that Government do everything it can to remove barriers to doctors prescribing the cancer drugs they think will help their NHS patients. In the medium term our plans to introduce value-based medicines pricing in 2014, on expiry of the current pharmaceutical price regulation scheme, will allow Government to take the initiative on access to new medicines. We will make new medicines available to NHS patients at a price that represents their value, rather than being restricted to recommending against the use of a new drug in the NHS due to the price its manufacturer sets.

However, we also need to act to improve access to these drugs in the meantime. As an interim measure, the coalition agreement set out our plans to establish a cancer drugs fund from April 2011, subject to the spending review outcome. The need for this fund is clearly supported by Professor Richards’ findings, and we will be consulting on our plans for the fund later in the year. But the report underlines the need for action now to help NHS patients access the cancer drugs their doctors think will benefit them.

I am therefore announcing today additional funding of £50 million for this financial year to support improved access to cancer drugs. This funding, which has been found from a review of Department of Health central budgets, will be made available through clinically-led regional panels from October 2010.

This Government are committed to ensuring that cancer patients no longer have to worry about whether they will be able to get the cancer drugs their doctors recommend from the NHS.