Amid the 60 year celebration of the NHS and the plan for the NHS's next 60 years, the problem of cancer drugs was swept under the carpet.
Two weeks ago the issue of co-payments was sent for review by the health secretary, who’s asked "cancer tsar" Mike Richards to assess the state of play and an up to date view. At present, patients who are denied drugs on the health service and are thus forced to pay for them are refused further treatment on the NHS.
The government did not wait for the review's conclusions before launching an NHS constitution, where one of the supposed new rights is to be treated by Nice-approved drugs, which leaves the crucial question: what about those who pay for drugs the NHS won't?
Stephen Pollard, president of the Centre for a New Europe, comments ‘The NHS's record on cancer treatment is lamentable. Only 8% of NHS lung cancer patients are alive after five years; the figures for Belgium and Germany, for instance, are 16% and 15% respectively. Just 17% of British stomach cancer patients survive for five years, as opposed to 33% of Belgians and 31% of Germans. So it is no wonder that many of those patients who can afford to do so pay for drugs that are prescribed by their doctors - Cetuximab and Sutent, for instance - and then denied them by the NHS. A YouGov poll last month saw 89% of respondents agreed that the ban on co-payment is wrong and only 5% agreed with the health secretary's previous position that the NHS should prefer patients to die rather than reach into their own pockets to pay for drugs the health service refuses to finance.”
Pollard continues “Allowing co-payments would open up reform of demand, since it would introduce, for the first time, non-state funding into the purchase of NHS services. This is the real reason why the health secretary has resisted co-payment for so long. In any area when patients start to be offered a choice, they soon start to demand an ever-greater choice and range of services. The same process will begin once the door has been opened to part-private, part-public funding of healthcare treatment. It might start as co-payment for a small number of drugs, but it will spread, because the hitherto sacred principle of exclusive state funding - other than the basic prescription charge - will have been breached.”
Patients are used to spending their money on healthcare. More than 6.5 million people have private medical insurance; a further 6 million are covered by health cash plans. 8 million more pay for alternative therapies not available on the NHS, and many others pay for one-off private treatments. And this is not just the better-off: more than 3.5 million trade unionists have private health cash plans and medical insurance schemes.
Private medical insurance: News update: July 2008