Yesterday, it was announced by NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that they will now be able to delay or block access to new treatments if they cost over £20m. Crucially, this means that even if a new treatment has been approved by NICE as being cost effective, NHS England can still withhold access to NHS patients if the total cost of the drug is over £20m a year.
In the event of NHS England blocking a treatment, they would then begin a negotiation with the manufacturer about how access could be managed. However, their proposal is to allow up to three years for this negotiation, potentially creating a huge time delay for patients.
These proposals were put out for public consultation in December and January. Bloodwise responded formally, and along with other cancer charities, firmly opposed this idea. We are already concerned about new and innovative drugs not being approved as cost-effective by NICE despite providing improvements to patient care. This new announcement places a further barrier for patients to access new treatments – even if a drug is successfully approved as being cost-effective by NICE, it may still have to go through a further hoop in order to reach patients. The result of this will be to add in a further delay of up to three years for patients to access a potentially lifesaving treatment, or possibly the drug never being made available at all.
The Government have made a number of announcements in recent months aimed at supporting the research and life science sector and speeding up access to treatments, such as the Accelerated Access Review launched last year and the recently announced Industrial Strategy. However, this announcement by NICE and NHS England risks adding significant delays to drug access.
We understand the NHS in under great financial pressure. However, at a time where medical research is helping to develop more and more new treatments to take the treatment of blood cancer forward, there is an urgent need for a complete rethink about how ensure patients can access the most effective treatments.
We are calling for a broad discussion between the Government, NHS England, NICE, industry and patients and their representative groups to establish a long term sustainable solution that allows patients to be able to access the drugs they need.
In the meantime, we will continue to represent the views of patients in appraisals for new treatments, and make the case for blood cancer patients needing access to the new lifesaving treatments that are being launched in the months ahead.