Anger at hospital patients being denied the latest treatments
11th January 2013
A new report commissioned by the Department of Health (DoH) paints a damning picture of the NHS’ priorities and procedures, showing that they are inexplicably not prescribing the latest and most effective medications for bowel, brain, lung and ovarian cancer that have been previously given the green-light by NHS watchdog National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). The report details how often treatments approved by NICE are being prescribed by hospitals and GPs. Some of the new treatments have incredibly prolonged the lives of terminally ill patients by over a year in some cases whilst others managed to improve the survival rates of patients by roughly a quarter, so the news that the drugs are not being utilised will no doubt infuriate families across the UK. The same DoH report also documents how numerous hospitals are seemingly refusing to prescribe the most up-to-date treatments for other health conditions such as arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s Disease, heart attacks and multiple sclerosis. It would also seem certain patients would benefit over others luckily by circumstance as some hospitals have been routinely prescribing the latest drugs for several years compared to others who have not bothered at all and sticking to oldest ‘tried and tested’ treatments, regardless of if there is anything potentially more effective for the patient. Ministers and charities have blasted the findings of the DoH, saying it is ‘completely unacceptable’ that the new drugs have been held back for so long – some being approved by NICE seven years ago – and that hospital patients are being denied access to treatment that could significantly improve symptoms and even extend their life. Specific reasons for the refusal of many hospitals to offer the new treatments to patients can be only speculation until answers are demanded from the government, but some believe it may be because doctors are cautious to prescribe drugs they are not fully familiar with and will instead remain with treatments they have trusted over the years. Health Minister Lord Howe reacted angrily to the news and said: “Patients have a right to medicines and treatments that have been approved by NICE and are clinically appropriate for them, and it is completely unacceptable if this is not happening. We are determined to drive out unjustified variation.” Adding to Lord Howe’s comments was Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, who said: “NICE was meant to end the postcode lottery but these figures show that it is alive and well. Access to drugs should not depend on where you live or in which hospital you are treated.” Although health officials protest that the information contained in the report is ‘experimental’ and too early to draw conclusions, some facts are plain to see and include the staggering news that a drug for advanced bowel cancer has not been utilised at any time by at least 25 hospital trusts – despite receiving NICE approval way back in 2006. Other findings show that 15 trusts are spurning the opportunity to provide the drug Erlonitib to lung cancer patients. It works at preventing the development of tumours for approximately a year and was approved by NICE in 2008. However, it gets worse – it has been discovered that there are 24 trusts around to country who are not offering the drug Paclitaxel to women with advanced ovarian cancer. If they had the medication, it could extend their lifespan by an additional year. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, also gave her opinion on the subject, saying: “Patients have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE for use in the NHS, if their doctor says they are clinically appropriate. Any perception that there is a rationing of NICE approved medication taking place at a local level is a real concern.”