Improving access to medicines in Wales

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England’s controversial Cancer Drugs Fund underwent significant reform in 2016. Stakeholders called for more clarity about what, if any, impact the changes would have in Wales, particularly given NICE’s central role in the new-look Fund and the earlier access to evidence-based treatments it is expected to provide. The Welsh Government has stated that patients in Wales will not be treated any less favourably.

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Cancer in Wales

10 December 2014

Article by Philippa Watkins, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

The Welsh Government’s Cancer Delivery Plan for the NHS up to 2016 was published in June 2012.

The Health and Social Care Committee’s recent inquiry into progress made on implementing the Delivery Plan found that while the Plan’s aims and aspirations had been welcomed, these were not always reflected in cancer patients’ actual experience.

The Committee’s report made thirteen recommendations, including around strengthening leadership and implementation of the Plan, and improving cancer prevention and screening, particularly among hard to reach groups. The need for timely diagnosis and referral, and the role of GPs in this, was highlighted. Recommendations were also made relating to the individual patient funding request (IPFR) process to access new treatments, and tackling inequities in availability of end of life and palliative care.

The Welsh Government agreed to most of the recommendations. However, it rejected Recommendation 8; that a national panel should be established to make decisions about individual patient funding requests, in order to ensure consistency and equity across Wales. The Minister referred to the recent work of the review group on the IPFR process:

The group did not recommend a national panel as it was deemed impractical and imprudent to frequently bring together key staff and clinicians across Wales to make decisions about IPFR. (…) we will review the process again once the revised arrangements have had an opportunity to bed down.

The Government’s response to the Committee also indicated that, to avoid duplication in reporting procedures, it will not be directly reporting to the Committee on progress after 12 months (as explicitly requested in some of the Committee’s recommendations). The Government stated that annual progress reports will be published each December.

Further information:

The Chief Medical Officer’s annual report for 2013-14 stated that good progress has been made against the cancer delivery plan, but highlighted that the incidence rate of cancer is 20 per cent higher in the most deprived areas of Wales, compared to the least deprived, and that Wales’ survival rates from smoking-related cancers are lower than the European average.

Cancer in Wales (April 2014) is produced by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit and provides data on cancer incidence, mortality and survival.

NHS Wales provides three cancer screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer.

Cancer waiting times statistics can be accessed on the StatsWales The current targets relating to cancer are that:

  • At least 95 per cent of patients referred by their GP with urgent suspected cancer and subsequently diagnosed as such by a cancer specialist will start definitive treatment within 62 days of receipt of referral;
  • At least 98 per cent of patients not referred as urgent suspected cancer but subsequently diagnosed with cancer will start definitive treatment within 31 days of diagnosis, regardless of the referral route.

The most recent quarterly report (for the period ending September 2014) found that:

  • None of the LHBs met the target that at least 95 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with cancer via the urgent route should start definitive treatment within 62 days.
  • Two of the six LHBs met the target that at least 98 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with cancer not via the urgent route should start definitive treatment within 31 days.

Results for the 2013 Wales cancer patient experience survey are available at national and LHB level.

Information about cancer drugs funding can be found in our blog post Drugs funding in the NHS.