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Labour wrong to deny cancer drugs postcode lottery

Darren Millar AM

Documents from the latest meeting of the Welsh Government’s own medicines appraisal body, the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, have revealed concerns about Welsh patients losing out due to Labour’s refusal to set up a Cancer Drugs Fund.

The Welsh Labour Government has denied the existence of a postcode lottery in access to cancer medicines, but senior clinicians have discussed the implications for the Welsh NHS of England’s Cancer Drugs Fund.

Welsh Conservatives have consistently campaigned for a similar fund to that set up by the Conservative-led Coalition in England to give Welsh cancer patients equal access to life-extending treatments.

The Rarer Cancers Foundation has previously identified 24 medicines which are readily available to patients in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund, but denied to patients in Wales.

The minutes of the AWMSG meeting in November 2013, which have become publicly available in recent days, note that the Chair of the Group, Prof Philip Routledge, ‘reiterated the urgency to immediately address equity issues specifically relating to medicines on the ECDF (English Cancer Drugs Fund)’.

An analysis by the Rarer Cancers Foundation in August found that cancer patients in Wales were four times less likely to receive newer cancer medicines than their counterparts in England.

Darren Millar AM, Shadow Minister for Health, said, "Labour Ministers can no longer deny the existence of a postcode lottery in access to life-extending cancer medicines.

"Labour Ministers have refused to set up a Cancer Drugs Fund and ignored the distress caused to Welsh patients by being denied vital medicines.

"These documents show there is concern at the highest levels in the Welsh NHS about the implications for Welsh cancer patients of Labour’s refusal to establish a fund.

"It is grossly unfair that as many as 24 potentially life-extending treatments are regularly being denied to Welsh patients even though they are now routinely available across the border.

"While Labour’s legacy of record-breaking cuts to the Welsh NHS has placed considerable pressure on resources and staff, evidence shows that a Cancer Treatments Fund could cost as little as £5million a year.

"Labour Ministers should ditch their pride in refusing to follow the UK Government’s lead and put patients first by addressing the chronic lottery in access to lifesaving cancer treatment."

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