Professor calls for end to drug ‘postcode lottery’

Doctor David Cameron.' Picture: Neil Hanna
Doctor David Cameron.' Picture: Neil Hanna
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A TOP doctor in the Lothians has called for an end to a “drugs postcode lottery” which is sending cancer patients south to access life-changing medication.

Professor David Cameron, professor of oncology at Edinburgh University and director of NHS Cancer Services at NHS Lothian, said he knows of colleagues in the region who have seen their patients head south to gain access to vital drugs.

He said: “It’s clearly something which is not surprising if they can get these drugs in England.

“On the level of the patient, I think it’s a shame. It’s a consequence of different health and political systems. In England, there’s a Cancer Drugs Fund.

“For other diseases, it’s less of a problem but I wish patients across the UK could get the same access to drugs. I would like my patients to get the same access to drugs they can get in England through the Fund.”

Professor Cameron says a fairer system is needed in Scotland to make sure patients north of the border have the same access to essential cancer drugs as those available to ­patients in the rest of the UK.

An independent survey of oncologists and haematologists across Scotland found that almost four in ten were aware of patients who had moved to receive treatment, while 96 per cent said they believed access to cancer therapies is better south of the border. In England, a Cancer Drugs Fund is in operation which provides £200 million a year giving access to medication which has not been approved for routine use. Scottish patients, however, face a more complex battle for drugs that have not been rolled out on the NHS.

It is believed some patients have moved to live temporarily with a family member or friend in England, allowing them to register with the NHS there.

Prof Cameron did not call for an identical fund in Scotland, but said he would favour a fairer system that would make access to unapproved drugs for all conditions more equal.

He added: “We’re not asking for every drug, we recognise certain drugs are too expensive for the amount of benefit to ­patients. The systems are never going to be perfectly the same but if we can get more similarities, that’s my own view of what I’d like to see for my patients.”

The results of a Scottish Government independent review into access to new medicines, were published yesterday.

Recommendations included that the Scottish Medicines Consortium – which decides which drugs are made widely available – meets publicly and also called for flexibility in drugs assessments.

A £21m fund to cover the cost of medicines for patients with very rare conditions has already been introduced, although Prof Cameron said uncertainty remained over who could qualify.

He said: “The detail of which patient groups can apply and what the criteria is, as far as I can see, remains unclear.”

40 drugs denied by confusing system

THERE are nearly 40 cancer therapies not available to clinicians in Scotland that are available in other parts of the UK.

They include treatments for breast, skin, bowel and lung cancer. In the survey, doctors listed 34 drugs that had been rejected by the SMC which they would like to have access to. Scottish patients who want unapproved drugs can submit an individual request to health boards.

But critics say they are used differently across Scotland. In a report published yesterday, it was claimed that even some doctors were unsure how it worked.