Conservatives announce plan to use NHS national insurance savings to fund cancer drugs
Protecting NHS spending is something to which David Cameron committed a future Conservative Government some time ago and he and George Osborne have remained steadfast in their commitment to doing so, despite the economic situation in which we find ourselves.
Today sees the first translation of that pledge into a specific promise to offer to voters at the election - namely to provide better treatments against cancer, something which even those who have been sceptical about ring-fencing the NHS budget ought to see as a good doorstep-ready policy.
It has already been reported this morning that the Conservatives believe that more anti-cancer drugs need to be available on the NHS.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was quoted by the BBC as saying:
"We've got to arrive at a point where people who have a cancer, who know there is a new cancer medicine that sometimes is clearly shown to extend life, or improve the quality of life, and their prospects, that those drugs are going to be available on the NHS."
Now the party has revealed how it would enable this to happen in government: as is well documented, the party will raise the threshold for Employers National Insurance Contributions, which will free up £200 million from the NHS budget every year. A Conservative Government would use that money to create a Cancer Drugs Fund to ensure that no cancer patient is refused access to drugs that have been licensed since 2005 if their doctors say they need them.
There are many examples of anti-cancer drugs which have been certified as safe, but which the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has refused to make available on the NHS due to cost. So the money from the Cancer Drugs Fund will be added to the NHS tariff in order to pay for the extra cost of those drugs, meaning that doctors will be able to prescribe them without needing to apply to their Primary Care Trust for funding.
Furthermore, the Conservatives are pledging that by 2014 a Tory Government will have reformed the way drug companies are paid for NHS medicines by moving to a value-based pricing system - so that effective treatments are made available through the NHS, with drug providers paid according to the value of their new treatments.
This would be a shift away from from the existing system of price control and profit cap through the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, which the Office of Fair Trading has concluded is not providing good value for patients.3.30pm update:
David Cameron has made the following statement about the policy:
"We have a problem in Britain that other European countries are doing better than us at giving people longer, happier lives with cancer than we are. So we want to get more drugs to people more quickly and in the UK today there are some people, thousands of people, who want a certain cancer drug whose doctors tell them they should have a certain cancer drug who don't get it.
"So we are saying because we are not going ahead with this National Insurance increase, that will save the NHS money and we are going to put that money into a cancer drugs fund. So these thousands of people who want a drug whose doctors would like them to have a drug can get that drug."