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Cancer drugs fund stance offers little comfort to those affected; Western Mail.

* EALTH Minister Lesley Griffiths has sought to draw a line under the clamour for Wales to follow England's lead and set up a cancer drugs fund.

She has ruled the idea out, saying it would not be in patients' best interests.

She bases her decision on the lack of evidence that improving access to the relatively small numbers of drugs, which would qualify for such funding, will improve outcome for those patients. Even more so, she speaks of the potential inequity created by diverting scant resources to pay for such expensive treatments, which would mean those resources are not available for the benefit of the majority.

What she doesn't, of course, say is that there's no reason why a Labour Welsh Government should ape a flagship policy of the Westminster coalition.

While Mrs Griffiths' reasoning may be sound in the context of evidence-based medicine, it will undoubtedly fail the hearts and minds test and will puzzle those families who have been told their loved one is not exceptional enough to warrant funding for a medicine that could prolong their life.

It also doesn't address the inherent inequity which already exists between the differing policies towards this group of medicines by two very different governments in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

While the cancer drugs funds exist in England, patients on that side of the border will continue to access the potentially life-prolonging treatments which are out of reach to cancer patients in Wales.

Those patients directly affected in Wales will not care about the politics or the potential for inequity in NHS Wales; all they will care about is why they can't have a medicine because they live here, when their counterparts in England are benefiting from such treatment.

In trying to prevent inequity, Mrs Griffiths - and, to the same extent, Prime Minister David Cameron in Westminster - have created both it and the mother of all postcode lotteries.

Patients in Wales do have access to a funding mechanism for these new and yet-to-be-appraised medicines in the guise of the individual patient funding requests. There are question marks, however, about whether health boards are willing - or even able - to approve such requests when eligibility criteria are so strict and finances so tight.

Mrs Griffiths makes the point that Wales already spends more per head on cancer than England and argues that spending must be focused on early diagnosis and evidence-based medicines. These priorities will be welcomed, particularly as Wales has such a higher incidence of cancer than the other UK nations, even when age is taken into consideration.

But the question mark remains over what will happen to that admittedly small group of patients who no longer respond to those evidence-based medicines.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 25, 2012
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