Belfast Telegraph

Poots boosts hopes for greater cancer drugs availability

By Victoria O'Hara

Health Minister Edwin Poots will ask the Executive for help to finance the creation of a possible Cancer Drugs Fund within weeks, it can be revealed.

Mr Poots confirmed yesterday that he will present a paper to the Executive by the end of October in order to finally "make a decision financially to do this or not to do it".

Campaigners had called for the creation of a Cancer Drugs Fund to end the 'postcode lottery' for access to cancer medication, a campaign which was backed by the Belfast Telegraph.

Such a fund exists in England and allows terminally ill cancer patients to access drugs that are not approved by National Institute for Clinical Excellence. (NICE)

There are nearly 40 cancer drugs available to patients in England that are not readily available to patients here.

The minister would need £7-8m to establish and run it.

"I have already indicated to the Executive that I need their help on this issue," he said.

"I intend to present a paper in the not to distant future which identify the drugs that currently people aren't getting in Northern Ireland but might get elsewhere and get an Executive-wide view on the whole thing."

Explaining his reasons behind the move, he said: "I think we have to make a decision financially to do this or not to do it. I should say it isn't purely about the drugs themselves, it will also be about administrating the drugs.

"So there is a cost over and above the drugs," he said.

He said the overheads would involve additional staff to run it including more oncologists or more nursing staff. Proposals had been made that 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.

The money returned has been used to fund innovative new drugs.

However, when asked if funds from the PPRS could fund the move, Mr Poots said he was "not totally convinced".

"The PPRS is complicated so I will try to have that explained to them (the Executive) as clearly as possible.

"The Department of Finance may have some interest identifying just how much we will get back."

The minister reiterated that the fund would not be free to administer.

"Let's be absolutely clear, no matter what anybody is suggesting it is not going to be something which is cost-free."

He added, however: "Nonetheless, at best we identify what the cost is and we decide whether or not to do it."

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