Brave new world

Macmillan CEO Ciara Devane

‘We need to do more for our elderly, not less’ says anti-cancer boss as NHS drug rationing proposals condemned

By Shelley Marsden

SECRET NHS plans to ration drugs to the elderly, giving priority to younger patients who ‘contribute’ to the economy, has been condemned by the CEO of Macmillan Cancer Support.

The plans to take “wider social benefit” into consideration when deciding whether to pay for a drug have been roundly rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Macmillan Cancer Support has supported NICE’s rejection of this absolute measure. Its Chief Executive Ciarán Devane told the Irish World: “We are extremely concerned that the Department of Health’s original proposal would hit older people hard, reducing innovation and ultimately stopping them getting the best treatment and care. We need to do more for our older people, not less.

He added: “The UK already has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe and they are especially bad for older people. Macmillan strongly recommends against any action which could make this worse. The NICE board is right to reject the Department of Health’s proposal.”

Head of NICE Sir Andrew Dillon has said the proposed new approach – in which the NHS has been instructed by the Department of Health to overhaul how it assesses drugs’ cost-effectiveness – would take funding away from the old and towards younger patients, who could get more benefits from treatment and give more back.

Sir Andrew cautioned that more money would be spent on drugs to treat middle-aged men as they are society’s highest earners, whereas a drug that could prolong the life of a care-home resident would be further down the list of importance as such patients take more from society than they contribute.

Drugs are approved by NICE which cost under £20,000 to give a year of good-quality life. The organisation would now like to use a similar calculation in assessing how much patients’ quality of life is affected by their illness, and use this to estimate the social benefit of treatment that could bring them back to good health.

Sir Andrew told the Times: “What we don’t want to say is those ten years you have between 70 and 80, although clearly you’re not going to be working, are not going to be valuable for somebody. Clearly they are. You might be doing all sorts of very useful things for your family or local society. That’s what we’re worried about and that’s the problem with the Department of Health calculation.”

Jennie McShannon, CEO of Irish in Britain told the Irish World she would be surprised if the Department of Health’s proposed plans got far: “The older Irish community in Britain, for one have been massive contributors to society. Over the years they’ve paid into the British tax system, like any other pensioner who has worked in the UK, be they migrant or white British.

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World (issue 22 Feb 2014).


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