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Denied life-saving drugs
because of cost

February 2017

lab technician performing tests

It seems almost unbelievable to people in our generation that fabulous cures are available for medical problems but we can’t have them because they are too expensive.

We were brought up when the National Health Service was well established and going strong without the major staffing and financial problems it is incurring today.

Sadly the latest reports indicate that up to a fifth of new drugs, developed after hugely expensive research and trial, may not be made available to us because of the cost.

Sufferers of cancer, diabetes and asthma seem to be among the people who may be most affected, but it is all a grey area and limited access to new drugs won’t be restricted just to these conditions.

It is all about cost effectiveness.  Top level discussions have been taking place to impose an extra affordability test on all medication.  What to spend the increasingly limited funding on has been a major question for some time and many believe that it makes sense to spend what resources there are on cheaper drugs that can help many rather than more expensive breakthrough drugs that may only save a few lives.

But of course how do you value a life?  It is all a very difficult question that is bringing up emotional  and heated debates across the country.  In a few weeks, in April, even for NICE approved drugs National Health England will be able to restrict those who are eligible for treatment if the total cost to the National Health is more than £20 million a year.

However, this is just part of the problem. A recent study led by the University of Liverpool on the prices charged for drugs for some of the most common cancer treatments found that several companies have consistently raised the prices of cancer treatment.  The researchers reported that
20 companies had increased their prices by more than 100 per cent in just the last five years, way over any inflation rate; and the cost of medication for some of the most crucial treatments had risen by more than 1,000 per cent.

In many cases it seems the cost of actual manufacture of the drugs seems to bear little relation to the cost that is now being charged to the National Health; and while course the initial development and research needs to be covered, even so many feel the discrepancies are just out of proportion.

There is also a problem that some drugs appear to be much cheaper overseas.

For instance the cost of Busulfan,which is used to treat leukaemia, has risen from 21 pence per tablet to £2.61p, a rise of well over 1,000 per cent plus reports say that in India the same drug sells for just a few pence.

This is also the case for Tamoxifen, a very common treatment for breast cancer. This has seen price rises from 10 pence per tablet to around £1.21p, another dramatic rise for a drug that is reported to cost just a few pence per tablet in India.

This is of course one of the reasons why some patients are desperately trawling the internet to try and purchase the drugs denied them on the NHS. This of course is bound with dangers due to lack of medical supervision plus lack of verification on the quality of the drugs being offered on sale.

One of the most recent problems reported is that the NHS has announced it plans to stop funding 25 treatments for cancer including key treatments in breast, prostate and bowel disease.  The Daily Telegraph has reported that more than 3,000 patients a year with bowel cancer and 1,700 patients with breast cancer are among those who will be affected by funding restrictions.

Of course one positive side is that money is being spent on developing these exciting new treatments, treatments that weren’t even thought of when we were young.

But this doesn’t help the dreadful dilemma of making a decision about who to fund for life saving medication. It was not a problem we expected to encounter when we were younger.


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