Controversy as cancer drug deemed “too expensive” for NHS

A drug which prolongs the life of liver cancer patients has been deemed “too expensive” by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

A drug that can potentially prolong the lives of patients with advanced liver cancer will not be available to patients on the NHS as the costs are “simply too high”.

NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, has deemed the £3,000-a-month cost of the drug, Nexavar, could not be borne by the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are as many as 3,000 people diagnosed with liver cancer each year with the prognosis being very poor – only 20 per cent of patients are alive one year after diagnosis, dropping to just 5 per cent after five years.

The decision has, however, outraged both campaigners and medical experts. Campaigner Kate Spall, speaking to Radio 4, spoke of how her 58 year old mother had four extra precious months of life and how it had given her “closure”.

Kate had to fight authorities to start treatment for her mother.

Dr Harpreet Wasan, a Medical Oncologist at Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College, London, told Medical News Today in September that such a decision would leave doctors with nothing other than supportive and palliative care for such patients. He went on to say that it was akin to:

“Denying them the life-preserving benefits of modern treatments.”

The drug had already been rejected in Scotland with regulatory authorities arguing that the cost to benefit ratio did not warrant its acceptance – this despite evidence showing the drug can potentially prolong survival by up to six months.

The problem for British patients is that the drug is used routinely in other countries and again opens the debate as to how resources are prioritised within the NHS.

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