Should Scotland have a cancer drugs fund?

The Scottish Medicines Consortium decides which drugs the NHS pays for

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In recent months, pressure has been growing on the Scottish government to set up a drugs fund like that in England, to pay for new and expensive cancer treatments.

Last November, 17-year-old Jamie Walker became the latest person to go to the Scottish Parliament to urge politicians to consider following England's lead.

The English Cancer Drugs Fund was set up last April, with a pot of £200m to spend on new drugs every year.

Jamie believes if a similar fund had existed in Scotland, his mother might not have died from cancer last year.

"Scotland has a cancer problem," he says. "We are now three times less likely to get drugs. Survival rates are below many other world nations and below our partners in the European Union."

Decisions about which drugs the NHS should pay for are made by a group of doctors and drug experts who make up the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Start Quote

The difficult decision is where there's a little evidence of benefit but a huge cost premium”

End Quote Angela Timoney Scottish Medicines Consortium

"We say yes to about two thirds of the medicines we look at," said its chair, Angela Timoney, "But most medicines are a small improvement on the current treatments available in the NHS already.

"Where a medicine is a breakthrough medicine - and that is very rare - it is usually a very easy decision for us. The difficult decision is where there is a little evidence of benefit but a huge cost premium."

One cancer charity has decided it will not campaign for a Cancer Drugs Fund for Scotland, as many others have.

Myeloma UK, which represents patients with cancer of the bone marrow, agrees with the SMC that some new drugs are not worth the money.

The charity's chief executive, Eric Low, said: "It is often the case that there is not enough evidence to justify the very high prices that drug companies charge for these drugs.

In a way, a cancer drugs fund lets drug companies away with that.

"What we should be doing is tightening things up to force drug companies to do a better job with their clinical trials and to price new drugs fairly."

Jamie Walker and Myeloma UK agree on one thing - people with cancer should have access to drugs which would benefit them.

Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether England's £200m cancer drugs fund significantly improves cancer survival rates - or whether most of these new drugs provide little extra benefit at a huge financial cost.

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