13/12/2011

North's Medicine Charge To Fund Cancer Care

The North's Assembly may soon be considering reintroducing prescription charges to help pay for life-saving drugs.

Targeting novel cancer treatments in particular, the Stormont Health Minister, Edwin Poots told MLAs he would probably put the issue out to consultation some time in the New Year.

He said the extra money would help fund clinically approved drugs for cancer and other debilitating diseases.

Speaking in the assembly on Monday, Mr Poots said: "These drugs will need to be paid for in future years and that is the reality which we face and in this context I'm considering a range of options how this might be done, including the potential reintroduction of some prescription charges.

"Such a decision would of course be subject to public consultation."

He has already received support with the SDLP Health Spokesperson and Foyle MLA Mark Durkan backing calls for the establishment of just such a Cancer Drugs Fund to improve access to treatment and drugs for cancer patients.

Speaking during yesterday's Assembly debate on the issue, Mr Durkan said: "There is a serious inequality of access to cancer medication between England and here and it is paramount that we establish the resource to allow cancer sufferers here to avail of life-saving and improving drugs.

"As a government, we have a moral obligation to ease the pain and improve the lives of those who are suffering.

"Currently cancer patients here are missing out on life-prolonging medicines that have been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) due to a shortfall in funding and this is simply unacceptable.

"If we strip back this argument to the Department's cost analysis, lets consider the cost of treating patients in hospitals and the cost of doctors, nurses and carers, the cost to families in taking time off work to look after their loved ones, not to mention their own physical and emotional exhaustion.

"A proactive and preventative health strategy is the best way to make saving and generate funding for frontline services," he said.

"We must do all we can to ensure this prevention by supporting community pharmacies, GPs, community organisations to deliver smoking cessation, healthy eating and early detection projects.

"We are letting cancer sufferers and their families down if we continue to deny them the same opportunities as people in England to access life-saving drugs. We must explore all avenues to better patient recovery and treatment and the creation of a Cancer Drugs Fund is an ideal place to start," he said.

"The SDLP is also calling on the Health Minister to work with the Social Development Minister to find ways of supporting cancer patient facing economic hardship during their treatment and recovery by establishing a permanent Cancer Care and Support Allowance."

The East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross has also backed the Health Minister Edwin Poots on the creation of a cancer drugs fund in Northern Ireland similar to that established in England. The call was made during an Assembly debate which was tabled by Mr Ross and his North Down colleague Peter Weir.

"A Cancer Drugs Fund allows clinicians and cancer specialists to be at the heart of the treatment process, and allows patients to get access to personalised drugs which had previously been denied to them," he said.

"The public were understandably supportive of the decision by the Executive to remove these prescription charges, however were it possible to ensure that these funds were diverted to assist a cancer drugs fund then I believe that it would receive support.

"This proposal does not put forward a finalised proposal, but can open up a debate which would then be finalised in consultation with medical professionals which would allow cancer patients in Northern Ireland to be given the very best treatment available," he added.

(BMcC)

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