Wells Announces Recommended Changes To NI's Medical Drug Approval List

Leading local cancer charity, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, has welcomed the Health Minister’s announcement concerning the recommended changes to be made to NI’s current drug approval process.

dn_screenFollowing the charity’s Equal Access campaign to secure the same access to cancer drugs for Northern Ireland patients as those living in England, the Health Minister announced a review in May last year of the current Individual Funding Request (IFR) process. The IFR process is intended to provide access to unapproved specialist drugs for patients where there is an agreed clinical need, but currently denies access to 95% of patients in the initial stages of their request. These drugs are only available by exception to patients in Northern Ireland, mostly because they are deemed too costly by the NICE approving body. Minister Wells today announced four key recommendations from the IFR review:

*to remove the 95% exceptionality clause that denies most applicants access to the drugs;

* to establish a committee to scrutinize IFR applications;

* to revise IFR guidelines to offer greater transparency of the process;

* and to establish a ‘Specialist Medicines Fund’ to provide greater access to these specialist drugs. In order to fund the Specialist Medicines Fund, Minister Wells has announced a 12 week consultation into the IFR review and the re-introduction of limited prescription charges.

Roisin Foster, Cancer Focus NI Chief Executive said: “We welcome today’s focus by the Minister on this issue, and the opportunity to meet with him again in person. We see these recommendations as a great step in the campaign towards securing equal access for patients here.

“Cancer Focus NI believes that the most appropriate mechanism to fund cancer drugs is a matter for our politicians to decide. Cancer Focus NI will be taking our Equal Access campaign to the Assembly Health committee tomorrow (Wednesday) to urge them to play a leading role in finding an agreed funding solution to deliver equal access to cancer medicines. We believe there is no greater legacy for this Assembly than to deliver on Equal Access to cancer drugs on behalf of Northern Ireland’s cancer patients.”

Cancer Focus NI, along with 14 other charities, launched the Equal Access Campaign to highlight the gross inequity that exists for cancer patients in Northern Ireland. There are now 40 drugs that are not readily available to cancer patients locally but that are freely available to patients living in England.