Wales politics

Panel needed for 'fair' access to new cancer treatment, say AMs

Chemotherapy Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The Cancer Delivery Plan aims to improve prevention, detection, treatment, care and research

A national panel should be established to ensure patients across Wales have fair access to new cancer treatments, an assembly committee has concluded.

Clinicians told the health committee that doctors and health boards used the application process in different ways.

AMs were told this could cause delays in patients receiving treatment and also anxiety for patients.

Conservatives said the report confirmed their claims that the process of accessing cancer medicines was unfair.

The report follows the committee's inquiry into the Welsh government's Cancer Delivery Plan to 2016, which aims to improve prevention, detection, treatment, care and research.

The report says that health professionals agreed that the application process for new cancer treatments "was not always good at ensuring fair access to cancer treatments, especially if a small group of patients all applied for the same treatment or new treatments became available".

'Clear remit'

"They said that doctors used the process in different ways and health boards made decisions differently, which could cause a delay in patients getting treatments and cause anxiety," the report notes.

The committee recommends that a national panel should be established "to make sure that applications for individual patient funding from people across Wales are considered fairly".

The report also concludes the strategy needs "stronger leadership" to succeed.

It says a body with a "clear remit" and the "necessary resources" is needed for local plans to be achieved by the seven health boards in Wales.

Committee chair David Rees said AMs had been told that "without stronger national leadership there is a risk that the plan's aspirations will not be realised by 2016".

"On that basis, we ask the minister [Health Minister Mark Drakeford] to ensure that there is a body with a clear remit, and the necessary resources, to provide drive and leadership at a national level, and hold health boards to account for the delivery of their local plans".

'Postcode lottery'

But the committee found the Cancer Delivery Plan had made progress in some areas in its first two years, including in research, screening and end of life care.

Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar said: "This cross-party report confirms what cancer patients and Welsh Conservatives have been saying for years: the process of accessing cancer medicines is unfair, not fit for purpose and must be overhauled.

"For years, Labour ministers have denied the existence of a postcode lottery and refused calls to set up a Cancer Treatments Fund, to ensure parity with other parts of the UK."

Plaid Cymru health spokeswoman Elin Jones said Welsh ministers "should lead on granting access to drugs and treatments".

"These decisions should be taken at a national level, and not left to individual LHBs (local health boards) because this creates a postcode lottery for treatment which is unacceptable," she added.

A spokesman for the Wales Cancer Alliance, representing 11 cancer charities, said it believed "the ambitions set out in the Cancer Delivery Plan will not be achieved without robust national planning, monitoring, accountability and all-Wales initiatives to ensure consistent and better outcomes for people affected by cancer".

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