Cochrane: Cancer drugs funding review must deliver better treatments for patients

Alliance Secretary of the Assembly Group on Cancer, Judith Cochrane MLA, has welcomed the move by the Health Minister to review the Individual Funding Request process. The system is in place to determine whether the health service will provide specialist drugs that are currently not available routinely on the NHS in Northern Ireland.

The review will consider the ‘Exceptionality Clause’ which requires clinicians to prove that their patient’s cancer is exceptional in any request in the current system. It will also consider the reintroduction of prescription charges to pay for any new treatments.

Judith Cochrane MLA said: “I am pleased that the Health Minister has decided to review the Individual Funding Request process. I have been lobbying the former Minister Edwin Poots for some time and am glad that the review has taken on several of the points that I had raised with him, including moving away from deciding if an application should be approved based on a financial argument and moving towards a more clinical based system.

“This review must lead to better access to cancer drugs for patients in Northern Ireland. Many of these treatments are available in other regions of the UK. It is unacceptable that any patient would be denied access to drugs which could extend their lives.

“While providing new drugs obviously costs money, I have lobbied for consideration to be given to availing of funding promised by the pharmaceutical industry, which would ease pressure on the health system. I am pleased that this will now be included in the evaluation, as will reintroduction of a small prescription charge, for which there has been support.

“One of the biggest problems with the current system is the ‘exceptionality clause’ which means that doctors have to prove that their patient’s cancer is exceptional in any request for specialist drugs not currently provided by the health system. This is a difficult task to prove and has been a barrier to many patients who need certain cancer drugs. This review will consider whether this clause should be continued and I certainly hope it will be removed.

“This review will give hope to many cancer patients in Northern Ireland. It is important that the new Health Minister Jim Wells delivers for those who have been denied access to life-extending treatments.”


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