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Monday 24th October 2016

Cancer care improves

22nd September 2006

24082006_chemo1.jpgThe National Cancer Director said that the Cancer Plan is improving care for cancer patients, announcing significant progress in reducing variation in access to NICE approved cancer drugs across the country.

The publication of the report 'Review of NHS usage of cancer drugs approved by NICE' said that "Cancer Networks and their stakeholders should be congratulated on the progress they have made" in reducing the 'post-code' lottery of access to NICE approved cancer drugs. However, he warned that there were still challenges ahead for the NHS to ensure that cancer patients get the best possible care.

Speaking about the report at the Health Service Journal (HSJ) conference 'Redesigning cancer services', Professor Richards said "I am reassured to see that a positive NICE appraisal leads to increased and more consistent use of these drugs around the country. There will always be some variation in drug usage across the country - this is to be expected given the different needs and choices of local communities and patients."

The report shows that "the NICE approval process is working" said the Cancer Tsar, with a 47% increase in cancer drug use since the last assessment, and a reduction in variations of usage of all NICE approved cancer drugs.

The report is a follow up to figures produced in 2004 in response to concern that variation in usage and availability of cancer drugs existed around the country, even after drugs received a positive NICE appraisal. The newly released report shows a reduction in variation of usage across England for all 15 NICE approved cancer drugs.

The two drugs with the biggest variation in the last report, PLD for ovarian cancer, and Temozolomide for glioma - a form of brain cancer, still show the widest variation in use round the country, but there could be 'legitimate reasons' for this says the report.  A number of drug options exist for ovarian cancer, and patients with glioma - a relatively rare brain tumour, may be referred elsewhere for specialist treatment.

Herceptin (Trastuzumab), which has been brought to the fore in the high profile cases over the last year which have highlighted the post-code lottery of care, has shown an increase in use since 2003, and a decrease in variation across the country.

Cancerbackup Chief Executive, Joanne Rule, cautioned that "Sadly it is not uncommon for people to call our helpline saying that they have been refused a NICE approved treatment". 

"Postcode prescribing is a life or death issue for patients" she added.

Chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Jeremy Hughes, said: "We must ensure future patients don't have to struggle for potentially life-saving treatment in the way some women with breast cancer have had to for access to Herceptin."

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