�5m drugs fund boost for cancer patients

CANCER patients in Suffolk will get access to a new �5m fund to pay for non-NHS approved drugs, it has emerged.

The money has been earmarked for the East of England – one of the highest regional handouts – and will become available from October.

The cancer drugs fund will pay for medicines which can extend life by a few months or improve quality of life but which may have been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) as too expensive.

It will also cover drugs currently used off-label by clinicians to treat conditions not covered by the medicine’s licence, or those which have yet to be appraised by the watchdog.

And it will be a forerunner to a bigger fund – possibly up to �200m - which is expected to be agreed by the Government next year.

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However rows are likely to erupt over the “post code lottery” nature of the allocation - although the East of England receives one of the largest amounts.

A letter from NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, shows the region’s strategic health authority is in line for �5.2m - more than 10% of the �50m total.

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The fund was last night hailed as “great news” for patients who were in desperate need of treatment.

Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is enormously distressing for cancer patients when their doctor tells them there is a drug that will improve their quality of life or extend the length of their life but the NHS won’t pay for it.

“What this fund means is that for large numbers of patients drugs will now become available - it is great news and will make a very significant difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath, NHS Suffolk consultant in public health medicine, said: “We welcome this initiative to improve access to new treatments which could bring benefits to many cancer patients in the county.”

An NHS East of England spokesperson added: “The fund will improve access NHS patients have to innovative cancer drugs that can extend life or improve quality of life.”

Doctors working in regional groups will decide how the funding is spent in their area based on advice from cancer specialists.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We will work with the NHS, clinicians, patient groups and manufacturers in the design of the full cancer drugs fund to operate from April 2011, to ensure that we achieve the maximum possible benefits for patients.

“To ensure that effective drugs for all conditions are affordable, the Government will introduce a new, more cost-effective, system of paying drugs companies according to the value of new medicines, from the end of 2013, when the current pricing scheme expires.

“The resources available to support the cancer drugs fund next year will be considered alongside other policies in the spending review, and will be determined in part by evidence drawn from the interim funding arrangements this year.”

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