Equal drug access event

Altnagelvin Hospital.
Altnagelvin Hospital.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is urging local people to attend a public meeting to voice their opinions on how to improve access to specialist drugs.

The meeting is one of a series being organised by the Department for Health across Northern Ireland and will be held at Lecture Room 1, Altnagelvin Hospital on Tuesday March 24 from 7pm to 8.30pm.

An evaluation of the existing system – the Individual Funding Request (IFR) - was commissioned by Health Minister Jim Wells last year and five recommendations have now been made outlining ways to improve access to drugs that are not routinely available.

This follows a high-profile Equal Access campaign led by Cancer Focus NI and backed by 14 other local cancer charities.

The IFR process is intended to provide access to unapproved specialist drugs for patients where there is an agreed clinical need, but it currently denies access to 95% of patients in the initial stages of their request, according to Cancer Focus.

The new recommendations include plans to remove the 95% barrier, plus a proposal to re-introduce prescription charges to pay for a new Specialist Medicines Fund.

Roisin Foster, Cancer Focus NI Chief Executive, said: “At the moment there are a number of drugs that are not readily available to cancer patients here that are freely available to patients living in England. This is a situation we are campaigning to change.

“This campaign is at a critical stage. The Health Minister has finally conceded that the current system is not delivering.”

She added: “Cancer Focus NI regrets that the issue of equal access to cancer drugs and the re-introduction of prescription charges have become linked. We believe there are a number of other ways to fund a Specialist Medicines Fund which could give immediate access. These include using the rebate from the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) to give access to new drugs, which it was originally set up to do. £30m from the PPRS is expected to be returned to DHSSPS this year alone, while only £6m - £8m is needed to give Equal Access to cancer drugs here. Alternative funding methods include increased prescribing of cheaper, generic drugs.”