New cancer drugs held up by NHS for nine years
21 May 2012
Patients are waiting up to nine years for cancer and Alzheimer’s drugs to be available on the NHS because approval takes so long.
The delays mean that even new drugs given the all-clear in extensive trials remain stuck in the queue for years.
A major study found that on average it takes five years from a treatment’s launch by a manufacturer to approval by the rationing body, NICE.
The process often lasts longer than five years and on occasions NICE will not start its assessment until a drug has been on the market for more than a year.
Last night doctors and charities said the delays are affecting patients’ quality of life and could make the difference between someone being able to live independently or needing full-time care.
Although patients can get drugs that have not yet been approved by NICE by paying privately or applying to the Cancer Drugs Fund, doctors are often reluctant to prescribe them.
Drugs that have not yet been approved by NICE are also available on some Private Medical Insurance policies.
The report by the Office for Health Economics, obtained by GP Newspaper, looked at all the drugs approved by NICE since 2000, covering a total of nearly 300 treatments including those for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart problems.
When making its decisions, NICE classifies drugs into two groups. Those which would be used on their own undergo ‘single’ appraisals, while those which are taken with another drug are subject to ‘multiple’ appraisals. These take several years longer.
In 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, the average delay for the 11 drugs which were approved after multiple appraisals was 10.2 years.
They included treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and Crohn’s disease, a debilitating bowel disorder.
In 2006 NICE approved three Alzheimer’s drugs, Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon, although only for patients in the ‘moderate’ stages of the disease.
These treatments would have been classified as multiple appraisals, and that year the average time these assessments had taken was 7.8 years.
Last night Andrew Chidgey of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Five years is a long time to wait. Whenever a new drug is available, NICE guidance should be issued as quickly as possible.’
Heather Walker of Cancer Research UK said patients needed effective drugs ‘swiftly’ and added: ‘There needs to be a balance between giving NICE enough time to make the right decisions and ensuring that drugs get to patients as soon as possible.’
Dr Anita Sharma, a senior GP in Manchester, said: ‘Being too busy to appraise a drug is not acceptable.’
NICE’s role includes drawing up public health guidelines such as how NHS trusts should tackle obesity. It also sets ‘quality standards’ which state how patients with a range of illnesses should best be treated.
Earlier this year the watchdog took on yet another role and began drawing up guidelines on social care. It will shortly be issuing advice on how NHS staff should care for the elderly with dementia and vulnerable children.
A spokesman from NICE said: ‘We don’t recognise most of the conclusions reached by the Office for Health Economics report which was published in January this year.
‘The report includes in its average figures some drugs that received their licences many years before NICE was established in 1999.
‘NICE has since been asked to appraise such drugs, but their inclusion in this report has skewed the average length of time elapsed from marketing authorisation to published NICE guidance quite considerably.’
Source: Mail Online, May 2012