National uptake of cancer drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has increased, with fewer regional variations in prescribing, according to a review.

National uptake of cancer drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has increased, with fewer regional variations in prescribing, according to a review.

At a conference on cancer services organised by HSJ last week, national cancer director Professor Mike Richards said there had been 'significant' progress in reducing variation in access to approved cancer drugs across the country. But he said there were still challenges in ensuring patients received the most appropriate care.

Professor Richards said: 'I am reassured to see that a positive NICE appraisal leads to increased and more consistent use of these drugs.

'The evidence collected shows that the NICE approval process is working, with a 47 per cent increase in cancer drug use since the last assessment, and a reduction in usage variations in approved drugs.'

Among the cancer networks, eight were generally high users in both the 2003 and 2005 reviews.

Four networks were low users in 2003 but high users in 2005.

The review makes a series of recommendations, including guidance on better capacity planning for primary care trusts, adopting electronic prescribing systems and better monitoring of NICE guidance.

Cancerbackup chief executive Joanna Rule said: 'While local variation may have reduced, in some cases large variations still remain.

'Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to call our helpline saying that they have been refused an approved treatment. The DoH should help by announcing an innovations fund to help local areas absorb the cost of new treatments.'