The Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF) and the Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF) are calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to take measures to ensure better access to drugs for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.
This call for action follows a roundtable summit hosted by the charities in Stormont which brought together senior representatives from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), politicians and leading clinicians to discuss the current challenges facing cancer patients in getting access to the most effective medicines. At the summit, a number of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) gave their support to the charities’ campaign by signing a pledge to improve cancer treatments for patients.
Both UCF and RCF have long campaigned for more effective and transparent systems to ensure patients are able to access those drugs deemed appropriate by their clinician and better information on what treatments are available.
Research conducted by UCF among cancer specialists showed that some cancer patients are missing out on vital life-prolonging cancer medicines because cancer doctors are forced to fill out an individual funding request each time they want to prescribe a new cancer medicine for a patient. This protracted process has resulted in 40% of those cancer specialists surveyed having, at some time in the past, received a decision too late to initiate treatment for a patient, for a medicine that would be routinely available in England[i].
In recent months, there have been a series of positive announcements by the DHSSPS and discussions in the Assembly on the issue of access to medicines in Northern Ireland. In September 2011, Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA, announced the introduction of a new process improving the availability of treatments approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in Northern Ireland[ii]. This summit provided an opportunity for those in attendance to share their perspectives on how the new system for approving treatments will operate.
Speaking after the meeting, Roisin Foster, Chief Executive, UCF said: “We welcome the recent introduction of a new system aimed at making NICE-approved drugs more widely available. This summit has helped to provide greater understanding of how the new system for approving treatments will work in practice and ensure that it will improve the availability of life-extending cancer treatments for patients.”
Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive, RCF added: “Historically cancer patients in Northern Ireland have been at a disadvantage compared with those in the rest of the United Kingdom in getting access to clinically-effective treatment as a result of administrative delays and budgetary pressures. It is essential that cancer patients in Northern Ireland should be able to access the same standards of cancer care as patients in England who have benefitted from the creation of the Cancer Drugs Fund.”