Health Policy

14.11.16

Breast cancer charity lobbies Hunt to end treatment postcode lottery

The UK’s leading breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Now, has urged health secretary Jeremy Hunt to clarify who should fund cheap drugs proven to prevent the spread of breast cancer.

Currently, a lack of guidance on which NHS bodies should fund the prescription of bisphosphonates means there is significant variation across England in access to the drugs, leading many patients to miss out on crucial treatment.

The total cost of bisphosphonates is estimated to be an average of 43p per day and they are usually used to strengthen bone in the treatment of osteoporosis. However, recent research has shown that bisphosphonates can also reduce the spread of breast cancer to the bone and elsewhere in the body.

Mia Rosenblatt, assistant director of policy and campaigns at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This continued confusion over who should be funding the use of bisphosphonates, which cost just 43p per day, is seeing women’s lives put at risk over small change.

“With no agreement between health bodies over who should pay for it, patients’ access to drugs that can help prevent their breast cancer spreading is being defined by where they live.

“We are now calling on the health secretary to step in and remove all uncertainty by ensuring national guidance that enables all post-menopausal patients to access these potentially lifesaving drugs.”

A UK Breast Cancer Group survey of 125 breast cancer oncologists published back in September found that despite the clinical evidence in favour of bisphosphonates, three in four clinicians remain unable to prescribe them. It is estimated that one in 10 breast cancer deaths could be prevented if bisphosphonates were routinely available to eligible patients, saving NHS England £4.22m a year.

Following the publication of the survey, Breast Cancer Now called on NHS England to produce a commissioning policy and guidance to support the routine adoption of bisphosphonates throughout England.

NHS England Specialised Services responded that it believes that the commissioning responsibility for bisphosphonates sits locally with CCGs. However, some CCGs still do not fund bisphosphonates themselves, making it unclear to what extent CCGs agree with or are aware of this guidance.

“My greatest fear is that my breast cancer could come back and spread. These cheap drugs could help stop that from happening, so why can’t I get them?” one breast cancer patient asked.

“Patients should know about these drugs and we should be offered them. Somebody somewhere needs to make a decision to say this can go forward.”

In a letter to the editor of the Times today, 41 leading breast cancer clinicians have urged Hunt to intervene, warning of the effects of the absence of clear guidance regarding bisphosphonates.

Breast Cancer Now has also launched a campaign, entitled #43paday, urging members of the public to write to their MP to lobby the secretary of state.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one in eight women likely to face it in their lifetime. However, the UK has one of the lowest breast cancer survival rates in Western Europe.

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Comments

Miss Glenys Goodwill   14/11/2016 at 19:53

Yes, but careful what you wish for! I have osteoporosis and so was prescribed alendronate. I had taken it for I think five years when my leg gave way as I walked along. My thigh had broken. The consultant said that it was unusual but not rare.

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