Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 19:39 UK

Kidney drugs no longer available

Doctors have been told they can continue prescribing the drug Sutent

Some kidney cancer drugs will no longer be routinely prescribed by the NHS in Wales, the health minister has ruled.

Edwina Hart has decided to follow guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) which says the drugs are not cost effective.

The advice covers Nex-avar, Avastin and Tor-isel but not Sutent.

Ms Hart said that all current treatments should continue until patients and their specialists decide it is the right time to stop.

In January, Ms Hart told health boards to make all four drugs available despite NICE still being in the process of approving them.

The move was welcomed by campaigners although it was not known what Ms Hart would do when NICE made its final decision.

In August when NICE announced that three of the drugs, Avastin, Nexavar and Torisel should not be prescribed, Ms Hart ordered the health boards to continue funding the drugs while she considered the guidance and took advice.

I just felt that Wales had a real opportunity there to stick their hands up and say 'look we can be somewhere that you can access cancer drugs'
Kate Spall, cancer drugs campaigner

Her decision to follow the guidance means the drug Sutent can be used as a first treatment for advanced kidney cancer.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Assembly Government said the other three drugs can be used in exceptional clinical circumstances where a clinician recommends treatment.

NICE said Avastin cost £5,982 per patient for the first six-week cycle and £6,117 for subsequent six-week cycles (about £53,000 per patient per year).

Nexavar is £2,980.47 for 112 tablets while Sutent is £3,363 for 30 capsules and Torisel is listed at £620 per vial.

Kate Spall, a cancer drugs campaigner, said she believed Ms Hart's stand about the drugs in January was a "PR stunt".

"I just felt that Wales had a real opportunity there to stick their hands up and say 'look we can be somewhere that you can access cancer drugs'," she said.

She also said that Sutent was sometimes not suitable for patients with heart conditions and the other three drugs would be very hard for patients to access.

"It is not easy. I take on those cases. They are extremely hard to win. They are very bureaucratic and it is an extremely difficult way for a patient to get on a treatment.

"Some appeals that we fight take up to a year for patients that are terminally ill."


Tory health spokesman Andrew R T Davies said Ms Hart had disappointed many kidney cancer sufferers in Wales.

"When she made her initial announcement back in January, she was very cavalier," he said.

"Now with the financial environment that we face obviously there are challenges but when people are faced with end of life situations and there is a drug that is clinically proven to be successful but financially cannot meet the guidelines of NICE, that puts politicians in a quandary.

"What the minister has done is raise hopes on the back of her announcement in January and now has dashed them."

Peter Black AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat shadow health spokesman said Ms Hart decision was "regrettable" and added: "If these drugs are now only available in 'exceptional clinical circumstances' then we must have guarantees that decisions will be taken quickly and by clinicians rather than accountants, and that when the go-ahead is given it does not lead to a longer wait for treatment and further stress on the patient and their family."

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