Belfast Telegraph

Cancer row 'a waste of time that will cost lives'

By Victoria O'Hara

People "will die" while waiting for a decision on how a cancer drug fund will be paid for in Northern Ireland, a leading campaigner has warned.

Una Crudden, who is terminally ill with ovarian cancer, said the red tape surrounding the issue needs to be "cut through now".

Her comments come after Health Minister Edwin Poots said that a £25 per year 'capped' prescription charge could pay for the fund.

Mr Poots this week said he supported the establishment of a specialist drugs fund but needed cross-party political support.

There are nearly 40 cancer drugs available to people in England that are not readily available to patients here. It has been suggested that bringing in a £3 prescription charge could support a £3m cancer drug fund.

This week an Equal Access campaign was launched by Cancer Focus NI, which wants to end the postcode lottery for cancer patients needing certain drugs.

The minister has faced fierce criticism from both campaigners and politicians saying there are other changes that could be adopted to find the funds.

Both Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists have accused the minister of using the cancer drug issue as an opportunity to promote the matter of reintroducing prescription charges.

They believe the money could already be available in Northern Ireland to pay for the innovative new drugs through an agreement known as the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS).

The PPRS agreement controls the prices of branded drugs sold to the health service.

Around £2.8m was returned through a scheme in the last financial year.

UUP's Roy Beggs said money could be saved with certain items not free on prescription such as sun cream and paracetamol unless the person can demonstrate a genuine medical need.

"It is shameful that the minister has sought to tie the two issues together," he said.

The British Medical Association said health services, including prescriptions, should be funded by taxation.

A review on how patients can access specialist cancer drugs is to be completed this autumn.

Mrs Crudden said "time is precious" for cancer patients and that urgent action is needed now by the Executive.

"A review will end in the autumn, but how many people will be dead by then who could have benefitted from one of the drugs?" she said.

"With cancer you can't wait because it spreads so quickly. It needs to be done now."

Fund helped 42,000 patients in England access crucial drugs

Q. Why is there a need for a cancer drugs fund in Northern Ireland?

A. There are 38 cancer drugs available to patients elsewhere in the UK not readily available to ill people here.

Q. Do other cancer drugs funds exist?

A. Yes, a Cancer Drugs Fund was set up by the UK Government in 2010 to pay for new and expensive cancer treatments.

Q. How do patients access the restricted drugs here?

A. Cancer patients have to apply through an Individual Funding Report for any of the drugs on the list. Only one-in-eight who does apply is successful in Northern Ireland.

Q. How many people benefitted from the UK's Cancer Drugs Fund?

A. The fund, which costs £200m a year, helped a total of 42,000 patients in England.

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