Cancer drug policy defended

HEALTH bosses have defended their policies on handing out cancer drugs to patients in Norfolk following criticism that people were not getting the life-saving medication they were entitled to.

HEALTH bosses have defended their policies on handing out cancer drugs to patients in Norfolk following criticism that people were not getting the life-saving medication they were entitled to.

New rules on whether people get new, and sometimes the most expensive, drugs have recently been outlined by NHS Norfolk and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney.

The two primary care trusts share the same panel to consider “exceptional” cases - people who are granted funding for drugs which are not normally available on the NHS.

NHS Norfolk has come under repeated criticism for refusing a number of patients drugs which could prolong their lives. And cancer patients and their relatives slammed the new policies because they refuse to consider personal circumstances.


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For example to get exceptional funding for drugs a person must be “significantly different” to other patients and they must gain above average benefit for the treatment.

Controversially someone in the final stages of illness will not be given any priority for drugs.

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Dr Bryan Heap, director of clinical services at NHS Norfolk, said the trust's drugs funding policy was “fair” and followed guidelines issued by national watchdog National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

He said: “In the past year we have had 184 requests for funding and only 35 were declined. Out of these 17 were cancer drugs. We had to decline these under guidance from NICE which deemed the drugs not cost-effective. The panel did not see any exceptionality with the drugs we turned down.

“We do not restrict access to cancer drugs. These are policies we have to follow. I think there is the impression that the PCT is constantly restricting drugs out of a population of about 800,000 that is a very small amount.

Several cancer patients in Norfolk have become high profile cases after being refused drugs from the exceptions panel.

Gail Balding, 62, died last November to kidney cancer following a prolonged fight to get Sutent, a life-prolonging drug. She was refused the drug three times after appealing the Mrs Balding and her husband Tony spent more than �30,000 in less than two years on the drug - which they believe enabled to her to live for at least a few precious more months.

Also Barry Humphrey, 60, a retired fireman from North Walsham, successfully fought last year to overturn a refusal for funding of his liver cancer drug sorafenib, although he has since stopped the treatment because it failed to help him.

The new policy was agreed on by board members of NHS Norfolk and it will be considered when looking at funding for patients needing drugs.

Following new published guidance PCTs were required to review their existing policies. The policies have been refreshed taking into account national policy and “best practice”, as well as legal ratification.

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