A group tasked by NHS England to examine how cancer drugs can be evaluated and commissioned in future has had its work ‘paused’ after just six months in operation.

  • Cancer Drugs Fund Short Life Working Group asked to pause work by Sir Bruce Keogh
  • Group set up in January to assess how best patients could access treatment
  • Lord Hunt “concerned” by decision

The Cancer Drugs Fund Short Life Working Group was created in January by NHS England to explore how patients could best access specialised cancer treatments from April next year.

The government has pledged that the cancer drugs fund, which was set up in 2010, will run until that date.

Bruce Keogh

Sir Bruce Keogh wrote to the group informing it of NHS England’s decision

The fund has been allocated £340m in 2015-16 to pay for cancer treatments not considered cost effective by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

However, HSJ understands that NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh wrote to members of the group, who include charities and pharmaceuticals firms, earlier this month saying the group’s work will be “paused” while the national agency considers “options for progression of [its work]”.

In a statement to HSJ, a group of 17 cancer charities (see list below), including Macmillan Cancer Support and CLIC Sargent have expressed their concern at the development, and have requested “urgent clarification” on what the decision will mean.

The statement, coordinated by Breast Cancer Now, said: “We have been informed by Bruce Keogh that the work of the Cancer Drugs Fund Working Party is to be ‘paused’, whilst NHS England and the Accelerated Access Review consider options for progression of this work.

“We have sought urgent clarification from Mr Keogh’s office on exactly what this pause will mean for our further involvement in this process and, crucially, what if any steps are being made to ensure patients are at the heart of it.”

A source familiar with discussions around the fund’s future said: “Bruce Keogh’s decision to pause the working group is very weird. [The working group] didn’t actually conclude anything.

“The working group was set up to design a new process to proceed the Cancer Drugs Fund, so why have NHS England decided they don’t need the new process?”

Lord Hunt, Labour’s deputy leader in the House of Lords and a health spokesman, said: “I am very concerned about the decision.

“It could mean a delay of many months for patients and shows that NHS England is not interested in investing in innovative new drugs.

“I am also concerned that ministers made no attempt to alert Parliament [of this development].”

Sir Bruce Keogh told HSJ: “On Monday an NHS England Board paper will be published outlining how the new proposals are going forward, full speed ahead and also giving details of the timeline for public consultation later this year.

“Some important ideas and principles have emerged from the cancer drugs fund working group and we will continue to work closely with them.”

The 17 charities that have signed the statement

  • Beating Bowel Cancer
  • Bowel Cancer UK
  • Breast Cancer Care
  • Breast Cancer Now
  • Cancer52
  • CLIC Sargent
  • Independent Cancer Patients’ Voice
  • James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer Support Network
  • Leukaemia CARE
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Ovacome
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK
  • Prostate Cancer UK
  • Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
  • Tackle Prostate Cancer
  • Target Ovarian Cancer

This article was updated at 3.00pm to include NHS England’s response