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Health: Cancer Drugs Fund

Volume 744: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to replace the cancer drugs fund with a new scheme.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and refer noble Lords to my health interests.

My Lords, we will ensure that there are arrangements in place from 2014 to protect individual patients receiving treatment with drugs funded by the cancer drugs fund. From April 2013, the NHS Commissioning Board will take on oversight of the fund. For the longer term, we are considering ways in which patients can continue to benefit from drugs provided through the fund, at a cost that represents value to the NHS.

My Lords, my understanding is that the Government’s original intention was that the fund would be replaced from January 2014. Can I take it from the Minister’s response that the Government are no longer continuing with the introduction of value-based pricing for drug remuneration in future?

No, my Lords, negotiations are now in train with the pharmaceutical industry with a view to introducing a value-based pricing scheme for medicines licensed after 31 December this year. That is still the Government’s intention.

My Lords, as regards the introduction of value-based pricing, can the Minister confirm whether cancer patients will be consulted about the definition of value within that concept? Can he confirm that the impact on quality of life will be included in the assessment of value?

My Lords, we consulted on our proposals for value-based pricing between December 2010 and March 2011, and as part of that process a number of patient organisations contributed their views, which were reflected in the Government’s response to the consultation, published in July 2011.

My Lords, what will happen to the panels of cancer experts that gave such valuable advice to SHAs about which drugs should be provided?

My Lords, when the arrangements for the cancer drugs fund pass to the NHS Commissioning Board in April, there will be standard operating procedures for the fund, which will provide greater consistency of access across the country while also preserving the right of clinicians to request any drug that they think will help a patient. The standard operating procedures will be published very shortly, and the noble Lord will then receive a fuller answer to his question.

My Lords, can the Minister elaborate on what reports, if any, have been produced from the Chemotherapy Intelligence Unit in Oxford on the efficacy of the cancer drugs fund? What will be done for those patients who have received relief from this fund for their treatment in future?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important point because clinical audit of the drugs in the cancer drugs fund and their use will be extremely important in informing the use of these drugs going forward and, indeed, in determining their price under a value-based pricing scheme. As yet we have not heard from the Oxford Cancer Intelligence Unit although I understand that we will receive a preliminary report quite soon. However, as I mentioned earlier, when the current fund comes to an end we will ensure that those patients who are receiving drugs under it will continue to do so.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the cancer drugs fund has been very helpful? Will he find some way of getting more orphan drugs for the very rare cancers, because that is a problem?

The noble Baroness raises another important point about orphan drugs and indeed ultra-orphan drugs as they are termed—drugs which are efficacious and helpful for patients with very rare conditions. It is likely that we will need to put special arrangements in place for the pricing of those drugs. Overall, however, I agree with the noble Baroness that the cancer drugs fund has been immensely helpful. So far, since October 2010, the funding has helped more than 28,000 patients in England to access the cancer drugs that their clinicians recommended, which they would not have done otherwise.

Will the Minister confirm that whatever new arrangements are put in place will be on the same principle and basis as the current cancer drugs fund?

I cannot confirm that we will replicate the current cancer drugs fund in its entirety—no decision has been taken—but we are clear about the principle behind the fund. The reason for creating it in the first place was to help the thousands of cancer patients and clinicians who were having difficulty accessing some cancer drugs mainly as a result of funding constraints. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to retain that thought very much at the front of our minds.

My Lords, can the noble Earl assure the House that the introduction of a value-based pricing system will not delay the introduction of new drugs into the UK, given that the current system of remuneration for drug companies provides a clear incentive for early introduction in this country as opposed to other countries in Europe?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. That, again, is a point that we are bearing very closely in mind in our discussions with the industry.