My Lords, NHS England’s appeal process for the national cancer drugs fund list centres on whether due process is followed with regard to decisions to add or remove drugs from that list. NHS England considers that third parties not involved in the application process, including patients, would not be in a position to make a judgment about whether due process had been followed.
My Lords, the cancer drugs fund was set up as a way of getting round NICE’s refusal to approve the use of a number of drugs by NHS patients. Would the noble Earl concede that NHS England has, essentially, set up a new rationing tool to exclude patients from drugs which had originally been agreed through the cancer drugs fund? Last Thursday, NHS England listed 19 drugs no longer available. Although the noble Earl said that the process is around the procedure used, does he not agree that in the end this impacts directly on patients who can no longer get those 19 drugs? Why should not patients be involved in an appeal process? How does the mantra “No decision about me without me”, which the Government have set for the NHS, fit the lack of patient involvement in these decisions?
The noble Lord is right that NHS England has just gone through a reprioritisation process. There are three important things to observe in that process. NHS England has assured the department that no patient whose treatment is currently being funded through the fund will have funding withdrawn, as long as it is clinically appropriate that they continue to receive that treatment. In addition, no drug will be removed from the fund where it is the only therapy for that condition. Clinicians will still be able to apply for individual patients to receive a drug not on the national list on an exceptional basis. We have seen through experience that many of those applications succeed.
Would the Minister accept that NICE is faced with an extremely difficult problem in continually having to consider the efficacy and affordability of new cancer drugs as they emerge in a National Health Service under financial constraint? Would he also accept that another major problem is emerging in relation to the orphan and ultra-orphan drugs now coming on stream for the treatment of rare diseases, which are equally deserving in many respects? How does he feel that the next Government—however they are constituted—will be able to consider this increasingly serious problem?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there is a particular issue around the appraisal of new cancer drugs. That is why NHS England, the Department of Health, cancer charities, NICE and the Ethical Medicines Industry Group, as well as the ABPI, are working together currently as part of a new working party tasked with finding the best way to get new cancer drugs appraised and commissioned for patients. A number of proposals have been looked at to reach an integrated process between NHS England and NICE which results in clear and final decisions on baseline commissioning of chemotherapy drugs.
My Lords, given the good news that the Minister just gave us about the working group looking at the future of some of these complex drugs, and the whole policy about “No decision about me without me”, would it not be sensible to have patients’ advocates, such as Prostate Cancer UK, able both to present and to appeal the case for a drug? It seems bizarre that this is the one area where there is no input of anybody other than the committee making the decision.
I differ slightly from my noble friend on this point. I think that the key determinant for the reprioritisation process has to be clinical input, and that is indeed what happened. It is necessary to have as objective a process as possible when looking at how to reprioritise a cash-limited fund of this kind.
My Lords, if I could come back to the noble Earl, the NICE processes make sure that patients are involved in every stage of the process. I do not understand why there is a difference between the NICE process, which is incredibly thorough and well regarded internationally, and this hurried rationing tool used by NHS England, which is more about its own budgetary problems than an effective solution to these issues.
My Lords, I do not agree about the hurried rationing tool, as the noble Lord puts it. The tool used by NHS England is one that has been tried and tested, and accepted and shared with the pharmaceutical industry. The point here, as I said in my original reply, is that there is due process here. NHS England believes that any patient group or third party not involved intimately with that due process would not be in a position to make a judgment about whether the process had been followed correctly.