nhs health care, nhs top up, nhs cancer patients
Jason DeCrow/AP
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

British Health Care Likely to Approve Sutent, Other Kidney Cancer Drugs

December 05, 2008 11:27 AM
by Denis Cummings
Reports in several British newspapers say that Britain’s health care system will approve coverage of at least two kidney cancer drugs it previously determined to be too expensive.

NICE to Approve Sutent

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), an agency that advises Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), is likely to approve coverage of kidney cancer drugs it had determined in August to be too expensive.

According to a report in The Observer, NICE will approve coverage of the drug Sutent and at least one of Avastin, Nexavar and Torisel when it meets on Jan. 14. The decision would represent a major victory for cancer patients and advocacy groups, who were outraged in August when NICE rejected coverage of the drugs.

Under intense political pressure, NICE agreed to reconsider the drugs. New evidence about the drugs’ effectiveness was presented and The Observer reports that the drug companies discussed a new “pricing arrangement that might persuade Nice to approve their products.” NICE announced in October that it was delaying a decision on the drugs until January.

The expected reversal by NICE is part of a larger transformation of the NHS over the past several months. In November, the NHS announced that it would allow cancer patients to pay privately for treatment not covered by the NHS without losing their NHS care. Though the decision was hailed by most in the country, it represented a departure from the NHS’ founding mission to provide equal treatment to all.

The era of truly universal NHS care came to an end in principle as well as in practice,” declared The Times of London.

At the same time, Health Secretary Alan Johnson asked NICE to “give more weight to the value of the last months of life when assessing how much the NHS should pay,” wrote the Financial Times.

Background: The battle over kidney cancer drugs

NICE’s August decision to decline coverage of Sutent and the other three drugs created a major controversy in Britain. It epitomized the growing public dissatisfaction with NICE, which has made many controversial decisions to refuse coverage of expensive drugs.

The kidney drugs had been shown to extend life up to six months or longer and were widely used in western Europe and America. However, NICE determined that the NHS should not cover the drugs because they are not cost-effective. Many accused NICE of making an inhumane decision and “putting a price on life.”

Sutent is also at the center of a recent controversy in Salford, England. Cancer patient Jean Murphy took the Salford Primary Care Trust to court in May claiming that it should cover her Sutent treatment; the PCT relented in October and agreed to pay for Murphy’s treatment.

On Dec. 4, the Salford Advertiser reported that the Salford PCT spent £17,282 in legal fees, more than what it would have cost to cover Murphy’s treatment for the six months of the legal battle.

“I think it is absolutely shocking that they can spend so much money on fighting about whether or not to give her the drug when, for that amount of money, they could have just paid for it anyway,” said Murphy’s daughter, Cathy Ostasz. “It seems wasteful and ironic to me—they claimed the reason why my mum could not have the drug is because it costs too much, but then they wasted all this money on solicitors.”

Reference: NHS and NICE


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines