Appeal for equal access to cancer drugs

Published Tuesday, 17 June 2014
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A local cancer charity has launched a campaign calling for patients in Northern Ireland to be given the same access to medicines as in the rest of the UK.

Cancer Focus NI's campaign is asking for equal access to 38 drugs not presently available in the region, but are available in England, Scotland, and shortly in Wales.

The charity is urging the Assembly to scrap the unfair 'exceptionality' clause, which it claims is designed to prevent 95% of cancer patients gaining access to new drugs and to put in place the funding needed to give equal access to cancer drugs without any further delay.

"These drugs are very expensive, so they've been turned down on economic grounds," Roisin Foster, Cancer Focus NI Chief Executive explained.

"In England, there's a safety net called the Cancer Drugs Fund that will allow patients to access those drugs.

"Now that is not a perfect model, and we're not particularly asking for exactly the same model, we're asking for the same access however that's delivered.

"Our patients are just as important if they live in Northern Ireland or if they live in Barking or Manchester."

The campaign aims to secure 10,000 pledges of support via email, letters and postcards which will be delivered to Health Minister Edwin Poots at Stormont this autumn.

Ms Foster added: "In Northern Ireland we do not have that safety net and we feel very passionately that people deserve the same quality of access and 14 other cancer charities in Northern Ireland believe that too."

Health is not a luxury, health is a right, so we should be providing the best possible care we can.

Professor Mark Lawler, QUB

Professor Mark Lawler from Queen's University's Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology said the motive behind the campaign is to provide the best care possible.

"Because we want to do that, it's important that we actually provide these drugs to cancer patients in Northern Ireland, it seems a very simple concept but that's really what we're asking for," he said.

"Some of these drugs, for example, have been the results of research that has been done in Northern Ireland.

"Not every drug can be used on every patient, that's not at all what this is about, but it's providing access to the best drugs that are tailored to individual patients, we sometimes call that personalised medicine, that's really what we want.

"If you look even in Northern Ireland itself, in the last 10 years, we have made some great progress in cancer care and treatment but it's to keep us at that level, because if you don't use the best of innovation to actually treat patients with cancer, then the danger is we'll slip back from the high standards that we have set ourselves over the last five years."

Alistair Murphy was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in February 2008 and was given two to three years to live, news which he said was "absolutely devastating".

He is supporting the call for better access to treatment.

"It's an absolute disgrace because we're all UK tax payers and it's not fair that there's drugs that can extend your life or relieve your suffering, and if you live in Manchester or Luton, you can have them, but if you live in Belfast or Newtownards you can't," he said.

"They give you hope - I've survived a lot longer than would normally be the case, and I've managed to do that through clinical trials and through having a brilliant oncologist.

"These drugs don't just extend your life, they are like stepping stones that keep you going.

"These drugs don't extend life in agony, what they do is they take that pain away and they give [patients] a quality of life, even if they eventually do die from the disease."
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Comments Comments
Get your priorities right! in Bangor wrote (223 days ago):
It is an absolute disgrace that people in Northern Ireland cannot get the necessary drugs - if it's all down to money surely the Assembly/NI Executive could find the money - if the DFM said there is money to build a mosque - if the PSNI are spending millions on the flag protest which they shouldn't have to do surely this expenditure could be used to enhance the lives of sick people - my message to the folks on the hill - get your priorities right!!
gina mc donald in lisburn wrote (224 days ago):
This is a disgrace as someone whose family has been fighting this for over six yrs.u r told of such wonder drugs as ceutuximab which in northern ireland cost 30,000 pounds a cycle ...the medical chiefs hv decided u can have if u have a krass status of wold type.a test which takes four weeks to find out but they wont even test you unless you have money to fund it first.Northern ireland has the same cancer fund which can be released within 24hrs an mr poots an the medical chiefs know it also.But they have a secret criteria which they cruelly select you for trial.if you dont get selected then your loved ones fate it sealed.great to know that in northern ireland you can rely on support to help you as we are only ones who support each other as our ministers just leave you to die. tomorrow night a group of us are doing the 10k to help raise funds for cancer drug ceutuximab for a local patient to help them stay alive.please give your support an help raise awareness of our neglect for cancer patients in northern ireland.
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