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Bid to end postcode lottery of cancer medication

By Victoris O'Hara

A leading charity has launched a campaign demanding an end to a postcode lottery for patients to access cancer drugs.

The Equal Access campaign by Cancer Focus NI aims to secure 10,000 pledges of support via email, letters and postcards which will be delivered to Health Minister Edwin Poots at Stormont.

There are 38 cancer drugs available to patients in England that are not readily available to patients here.

It had been suggested that bringing in a £3 prescription charge could support a £3m cancer drug fund.

Another proposal is 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 NHS.

However, as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph last week, the Department of Health confirmed that £2.8m was returned to Northern Ireland through a scheme in the last financial year, but it said it could not say where the funds were allocated as "the department does not collect it in this format".

Cancer Focus NI believes the current system to fund life-extending cancer medicines needs to be overhauled.

Chief executive Roisin Foster said: "The purpose of this campaign is to ensure that the most effective drugs will be made available to local cancer patients in their time of need.

"The Health Minister has indicated that he will hold a review of the cancer drug approval process in Northern Ireland, which is a move in the right direction.

"However, patients do not want an open ended review – they want decisive action to improve access to drugs that could extend their lives, improve their quality of life and ease symptoms.

"We hope a strong vote will persuade our politicians to act sooner rather than later."

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