Over the last week there have been two statements from the Government: one about measures taken to improve earlier diagnosis of cancer; and one in response to our petition calling for Abraxane to be kept on the Cancer Drugs Fund.
Let’s look at the bad news first. On Tuesday 8th September, the Government issued a formal response to our Abraxane petition, signed by over 3,000 people and presented to Parliament by Nic Dakin MP back in July. In short, the statement simply notes the decision of the CDF to remove the drug from its list on clinical grounds as of 4th November and gives implicit support for the move. This statement is the first example of the Government apparently defending the decision to remove Abraxane from the CDF - as opposed to saying more generally that some drugs had to be removed from the CDF list due to cost reasons - and it shows the mountain we now have to climb to get the decision overturned.
We will continue to do all we can to explain why Abraxane is an exceptional case – i.e. that it represents the first new treatment for more than 20 years for a disease that has the worst survival rates of any of the most common cancers and where survival rates have hardly moved for 40 years - and try to get the Government to change its mind. You can help us continue to add pressure by writing to your MP: we have provided a template letter and a link to find your MP’s contact details here.
Yesterday, there was some better news. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that the Government would be accepting one of the key recommendations made by the Independent Cancer Taskforce; namely that by 2020 all NHS patients with possible cancer will be given a definitive diagnosis or the all clear within four weeks of being referred by a GP. He went on to announce an investment in diagnostics – like imaging equipment and more specialists - to help achieve this new target. As pancreatic cancer patients currently often have to make so many repeat trips to their GP over a long period before being diagnosed, this new target could make a big difference to survival rates. One of supporters, Ann Stella, who lost her son Robert to pancreatic cancer at the age of 26, was interviewed for ITV News as part of the story. Ann appeared on the ITV News bulletins throughout yesterday. You can watch Ann’s interview, and read a comment from our Acting Director of Operations, Anna Jewell, here. Anna explained why the diagnosis target was an important step, and urged the Government to commit to the other recommendations made by the Independent Cancer Taskforce.
However, Anna also highlighted how we need to see the drug appraisal system changed to make sure that pancreatic cancer patients are able to access new treatments, if we are to see a substantive improvement in survival rates. And, of course, this brings us back to the need for Abraxane – and other new treatments that may come online over the next few years – to be made available to patients on the NHS. So, again, if you have not written to your own MP as yet, please do so, as we need to keep the pressure on if there is to be any chance of the CDF decision being overturned.