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Press releases

Access to blood cancer treatment is 'post-code lottery'

2 min read

On the day of his debate, Democratic Unionist Party​ MP Jim Shannon calls on the Government to consider the key to advancing blood cancer treatment. 

As many people with blood cancers live for a number of years with the consequences of their disease and treatment there needs to be a commitment from the Department of Health that everyone with a blood cancer will be offered tailored support.

Patients with blood cancers can face significant issues in accessing vital treatment due to the difficulties and complexities in appraising medicines in this area.

The system of appraisal used by NICE is not suitable for assessing medicines which treat conditions with small patient populations, often the case with blood cancer medicines which treat smaller and smaller patient cohorts as the cancer progresses.

An example of the system failing blood cancer patients can be illustrated via the case of ponatinib, a drug designed to treat  chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) patients who are resistant or intolerant to other treatments.

The drug is fully available to all CML patients in Scotland and Wales, but is only provided on the NHS to a small subset of patients who could benefit from it in the remainder of the UK, after NICE refused to appraise it due to the small patient population.

This has resulted in the equivalent of a post-code lottery in patient access across the UK, with some patients having to move to Scotland and Wales to undergo treatment. For these patients, this drug could provide an alternative treatment to a stem cell transplant, and a last chance at survival.

The systems of appraisal used to assess blood cancer medicines need to be able to take into account the smaller patient numbers and the issues that raises over the amount and maturity of data available, in order to ensure all patients who need access to medicines do not miss out because of where they live. This is just one of many things that the Department of Health needs to consider but it is key to advancing treatment. Today’s debate provides an opportunity to raise the issue and to hear from members as to what may be the best practice for the government moving forward.



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