The new generation of cancer drugs should not be available free on the NHS, a leading oncology doctor has said.
Dr Karol Sikora, medical director of Cancer Partners UK, told the BBC that enthusiasm for the drugs is based “more on expectation than reality” and their widespread use would bankrupt the health service while providing only a few extra weeks or months of life.
He said the NHS should provide a high-quality service for all cancer patients but only offer the new generation of drugs to those who could pay.
“The difficulty is not that these drugs are expensive but that they are not that effective yet - we will get there but it might be 20-30 years.”
Challenged that such an arrangement would mean a two-tier service, he said: “There is already huge inequity in the system. We are living in the economic Garden of Eden…Society has to think what it is willing to pay for preserving life.”
“These drugs have more of an expectation about them than reality. The core package (provided by the NHS to all cancer patients) would be good. It would give you the most benefit and anything on top of that would not be cost-effective. In other words, you might squeeze a few more weeks or months of life but it would not be hugely significant. Only by doing that can you keep the whole thing from collapsing with the huge vested interests in driving up the costs.”
The Department of Health quickly slapped down Dr Sikora’s comments.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have no plans to introduce a system of co-payment. We are committed to high quality NHS services free at the point of delivery. Since the introduction of the Cancer Plan in 2000 great strides have been made in the treatment of the disease. A recent report showed there has been a great improvement in providing equal access to NICE-approved drugs across the country. Diagnosis of patients is happening quicker than ever before, survival rates are improving and death rates are falling."