Cancer drugs 'delayed to cut costs'
The head of Britain's biggest drugs company has accused the Government of systematically delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs in order to save money.
GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Sir Andrew Witty said ministers were making false economies in order to achieve short-term cuts to the deficit in the public finances.
However the Department of Health insisted there had been no changes to the assessment process for cancer drugs. It issued a warning to the pharmaceutical companies that they needed to take a "hard look" at the high charges they were making to the NHS at a time of economic austerity.
In an interview with the BBC, Sir Andrew said governments across Europe had already cut drug prices by 5% a year - costing GSK around £300 million per annum - as they sought to drive down their debts.
However, he said governments were now seeking to go further in an effort to achieve even bigger savings - and he highlighted what he said was Britain's decision to delay new cancer treatments.
"The bit I'm much more frightened about is that what's now beginning to become clear is that, in addition to price reductions, governments are delaying the approval of innovative new drugs," he said. "So a second way they can save money, they think, is 'Let's just not buy the next round of innovation'."
Professor Jonathan Waxman, professor of oncology at Imperial College London, said that a number of new cancer drugs had been blocked, even though they offered "real advances" for patients.
He said the approvals process was now so "over-regulated" by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) - which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new treatments - it was no longer worth firms applying: "We are going to have a situation in the UK where drugs are not available for our patients. It is a disaster."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused David Cameron of breaking his general election commitment to improve the access to treatment for cancer patients.
However a Department of Health spokesman said the Government had increased spending on health, including new drugs, and that thousands more patients were getting access to the most advanced treatments. The Department of Health added: "We shortly will be consulting on a new 'early access' scheme, which could allow the most seriously ill patients to access new cutting edge drugs up to a year earlier than they can now."