Research and Technology

03.08.20

NHS set to roll out £160m ‘Covid-friendly’ cancer initiative

As part of a £160m initiative, the NHS will look to roll out and expand ‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments which are safer for patients during the pandemic, the health service’s Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens has announced.

The funding will help pay for drugs which treat patients without having as significant of an impact on their immune system, or which could offer other benefits such as a reduced number of hospital visits.

Almost 50 treatments have been approved for use as ‘swaps’ for existing drugs, with thousands of patients having already benefitted, and more are expected to be made available this week as part of deals struck between the NHS and pharmaceutical companies.

Within these treatments include options which allow patients to take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side effects rather than undergoing hospital-based treatment which can leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

These include targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and the broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma; just two of a number of new options available to clinicians and patients.

Over the past number of months, in response to the challenges faced by Covid-19, the NHS has sought to introduce a wide-ranging repertoire of changes to ensure continued, safe care for patients during the pandemic. These have included the widened use of technology, remote consultations and the establishing of Covid-secure cancer hubs to safely provide surgery for those who most urgently required it.

Sir Stevens said: “Since the first case of Covid in England six months ago, NHS staff have fast tracked new, innovative ways of working so that other services, including A&E, cancer and maternity could continue safely for patients and it is thanks to these incredible efforts that 65,000 people could start treatment for cancer during the pandemic.

“We are now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the Covid-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system.”

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, added: “This is encouraging news for some patients, who could now go ahead with their treatment, when it might have previously been on hold due to Covid-19. In recent years, successful price negotiations between the NHS and drug manufacturers have significantly improved patients’ access to new cancer medicines, but cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic, so it’s fantastic to see this work continuing throughout this difficult period.

“Steps like this to adapt the care patients can be offered together with the creation of Covid-protected safe spaces, will be critical in minimising the impact on people with cancer and ensuring their survival.”

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