Cameron’s Cancer Drugs Fund slammed as ‘policy on the hoof'

Written by Jim Dunton on 28 April 2017 in News

Academics say giving NHS patients access to unapproved medication was a “significant expenditure” that delivered “no meaningful value”

A coalition government-era initiative that aimed to speed NHS cancer patients’ access to “promising” new drugs was politically motivated and cost £1.27bn but delivered “no meaningful value” academics have found.

Set up by then-prime minister David Cameron in 2010, the Cancer Drugs Fund gave patients access to treatments that had been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, but had not been approved by it.

A study of the programme by academics including Dr Ajay Aggarwal, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the fund’s initial £50m annual budget spiralled and had reached an annual £340m by 2016, when the fund was “unified” with NICE.

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It said the total £1.27m cost of the fund was equivalent to one year’s NHS spending on al cancer drugs.

The research, published in the Annals of Oncology journal, urged other countries to avoid creating similar schemes, and said one lesson from the “costly saga” should be the need to strengthen regulatory and reimbursement processes and ensure they remain free from political interference.

“The CDF was created following intense public and political pressure to provide access no matter what the cost or the evidence for their benefit,” the authors said.

“There was no stated estimation of the ‘number of lives that could be saved’, nor, more realistically, of the number of lives that may be extended.

“This was a debate played out in the media, limiting the role of NICE as the final arbiter for deciding what constitutes optimal value for society.

“Six years later, and after considerable expenditure, we are now reverting to a pre-existing format, namely an independent health technology appraisal service – NICE –  providing recommendations for NHS commissioning."

The original CDF ended in March last year, and was replaced by a new incarnation tasked with delivering "faster access to the most promising new cancer treatments". However, its mission statement also references providing "value for money for taxpayers" and suggests fast-track funding is primarily for pharmaceutical companies who "price their products responsibly".

Lead researcher Prof Richard Sullivan, from King's College London, described it as "policy on the hoof".

He added: "Populism doesn't work when you are dealing with complex areas of policy like this. When it was launched it was not monitored properly. It was politically and intellectually lazy."

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the research underscored MPs' concerns from an inquiry last year.

“If patients seeking support through schemes such as this are to get the best possible treatment, there must be confidence that public money is being spent on the right medication, at a fair price,” she said.

“As this new study further makes clear, the fund did not represent meaningful value.

“This must serve as a lesson to future governments seeking to commit public money to projects that, without effective management, are doomed to fail both patients and taxpayers in general.”

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