Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has warmly welcomed the Department of Health’s decision to grant NI cancer patients the same access to life extending drugs as patients living in the rest of the UK following its four year Equal Access campaign.
In 2014 Cancer Focus NI spearheaded the Equal Access campaign calling for an overhaul of the current system to fund and access life-extending cancer medicines in Northern Ireland. Over 26,000 signatures were collected from across Northern Ireland and presented to the Minister of Health in support of the campaign.
Cancer Focus NI Chief Executive Roisin Foster said, “This is wonderful news. Finally local cancer patients will have the same access to drugs that could extend their lives, improve their quality of life and ease symptoms. This decision will make such a difference to so many families across Northern Ireland.”
Previously NI cancer patients were subject to a mechanism that blocked 95% of requests for access to these drugs. This meant that cancer patients here were over 80% less likely to receive these drugs than patients with similar diseases in other parts of the UK.
While the Department agreed several years ago to follow NICE guidelines on access to new drugs, when those guidelines were updated in England in 2016, the NI Department of Health failed to implement the revised process.
Roisin continued, “For far too long our patients were at a disadvantage. People like the late Brian Coburn, Allister Murphy, Gary Vint, Nicola Russell and Vera Saunderson generously gave their time – although they knew it was limited – to campaign for Equal Access alongside us.
“For current campaigners like Melanie Kennedy and Lynette McKendry, and groups like Cancer Patients Advocacy Group, I’m so happy to say that their time was not wasted. While they may have had to struggle with a health system that seems at times to work against them, they have helped pave the way for other families in a similar situation who can instead enjoy precious time with their families. I see this is a triumph for the voice of patients and patient groups.”