Are we getting the treatment we deserve?

There are more treatments and medicines available today than at any point in our history. Yet too many people across the UK are not getting the treatment they need. 

In yesterday’s Scotsman (9.8.17) Mary Allison, Director of Scotland Breast Cancer Now, rightly lauds these advances in medicine and champions improvements in access. She praises the recent decision to make breast cancer drug Kadcyla available on NHS Scotland - a decision which has transformed treatment options for many patients to whom it was previously denied. 

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But while the decision to fund Kadcyla was absolutely justified, the price - at around £5,000 every three weeks - was not. Time and again the prices charged for life saving medicines are unaffordable for our NHS. More and more patients are being forced to crowdfund for their treatment, or to fight stressful, lengthy, court battles to secure access. This week, a family who have been fighting for two years to get access to a drug to treat their son’s rare genetic disease finally won the right to have their case heard again by NHS England. How many more families out there are not getting this far?

But we don’t believe that blame for this lies at the door of our underfunded NHS, trying hard to make their budgets stretch to provide the best possible care to everyone. We believe the drug companies who are charging the high prices and making super profits are responsible.

  Health-workers and patients have been fighting to save the NHS in the face of government cuts and privatisation, including these campaigners in east London from the Save our Surgeries group.

Health-workers and patients have been fighting to save the NHS in the face of government cuts and privatisation, including these campaigners in east London from the Save our Surgeries group.

Many of the medicines which cost the NHS tens of thousands of pounds per patient could be profitably made and sold for only a few hundred quid. When Mary Allison applauds the Scottish government for committing to smarter decision making around medicines, she is right to do so. But with people’s lives on the line, if we want a fair system that works for patients then we must go much further. 

We need transparent pricing so that we know what price we’re paying for our drugs. And if prices are too high the UK government should use their power to step in and issue a compulsory licence allowing them to buy affordable generic versions of medicines. Ultimately, we need a research and development model which is focused on what’s best for people, not what’s best for profit. It’s a big demand, but the more of us who speak up and speak out, the closer we’ll get to a fair system for all.
 

Elizabeth Baines