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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The number of people in the UK who get cancer is rising steadily"
 real 28k

Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Cancer drug 'cash crisis'
cancer drugs
The best cancer drugs are often the most expensive
Survival chances for cancer patients are being harmed because the NHS spends 200m too little on drugs, say doctors.

This means many patients are getting 25-year-old drugs when recently-launched alternatives make them far more likely to beat the disease.

CERT: 'Cancer drug shortfall'
1999: 170m in already-licensed drugs, probable 70m on drugs still under test
2000: 207m on already-licensed drugs, 106m predicted for new drugs
The government has responded by ordering advisors to produce guidance on several new drugs for cancer.

But the Campaign for Effective and Rational Treatment (CERT) - a committee of the UK's most respected cancer doctors - says this will take too long.

Its report suggests that the shortfall between what is spent, and the minimum that should be spent on cancer drugs has actually widened by almost 40m over the past 12 months.

The NHS now needs to pump in an extra 207m just to bring the UK up to date with the latest developments, says CERT.

And it predicts another 106m will be needed to fund the next generation of drugs which are already performing well in clinical trials.

The CERT report is another blow to the government in the wake of accusations that cancer patient care is suffering through a lack of modern radiotherapy equipment.

CERT director David Turner said: "These findings are extremely worrying, especially as UK survival rates for some cancers already lag behind many other European cancers.

'Easy target'

"What is the point of patients being diagnosed more quickly and more patients being seen by specialists if there is not enough moeny for the drugs to treat them?"

Dr Rob Glynne-Jones, a consultant clinical oncologist from The Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex said that drug budgets were often the first port of call for health authorities looking to cut costs.

He said: "When cash is tight, cancer drugs with their easily identifiable budgets are an easy target."

The report estimates that 80,000 could be benefiting from treatments which are currently withheld from them on the grounds of cost.

In colon cancer - one of the most common in the UK - CERT said that 80m extra needed to be spent.

'Equally available drugs'

On Wednesday, some of the drugs highlighted by the CERT report were referred to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) for evaluation by Health Minister John Denham.

These included treatments for brain tumours, lung, breast, ovarian, pancreatic and colon cancers.

National Cancer Director, Professor Mike Richards, said: "This work programme will enable us to have a wide range of new cancer drugs appraised within the next year, so we can be sure that, where effective, they are equally available to all patients, regardless of where they live."

However, a spokesman for CERT pointed out that this would probably mean a delay of well over a year before advice to health authorities was issued.

Even then, he said, recent experience with taxanes - drugs for ovarian and breast cancer approved by Nice - suggested that some health authorities were likely to demand cuts in other areas of the cancer drug budget to pay for the new treatment.

He said: "Referring it to Nice is only half the story - the government has to provide the extra money to pay for the drugs, and then make the health authorities spend it on the drugs."

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28 Dec 99 | Health
UK 'miserly on medicines'
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