NHS England today confirmed that it had taken some cancer treatments off its “fast track” list following changes to the cancer drugs fund announced yesterday.
The body reported on Thursday that there would from now on be one national list of drugs approved for fast track access through the fund. Previously each strategic health authority had its own criteria, leading to regional differences in what treatments were available.
Across the country, there had been 167 funded “indications”, where a drug was authorised for purchase to treat a particular condition in at least one part of England.
Under the changes announced yesterday, 27 previously authorised uses for drugs were withdrawn.
In a statement issued to HSJ, NHS England said the withdrawals were made through “consensus decisions between all the regional cancer drugs fund leads”.
A spokeswoman said the reasons given for the withdrawals were mainly: “poor evidence of any benefit”; “only evidence of poor benefit”; or that “the indications had become redundant as a result of new cancer drugs fund inclusions, or National Institute for Care Excellence approvals”.
She added that the group of 27 accounted for “a very small number” of the 28,000 cancer drugs fund applications to date.
“Applications can still be made for these indications where there is no better alternative available through the new cancer drugs fund inclusions or mainstream prescribing routes, just not through the fast track list,” she continued.
Aside from the 27 withdrawn uses, other treatments had been taken of the fast track list because they were already available through routine commissioning, and “should not have been in the list at all,” she said. Twenty-one treatments were for rituximab, which NHS England has placed into routine commissioning, and seven had been given NICE approval and so no longer needed to be on the list.
Five – all for uses of alemtuzumab, which is used to treat leukaemia – had their licence withdrawn, while one – gemtuzumab – “had no licence at all”.
NHS England issued the statement after concerns were raised by charities that its single list of approved treatments was “levelling down” access to cancer drugs.
Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive of the Rarer Cancers Forum, said: “[Yesterday’s] announcement appears to be a clear step backwards for cancer patients in terms of access to drugs.
“The list of cancer drugs which will be funded has been cut in half with no explanation. We are worried that this will restrict access to drugs which were previously routinely available.”