England’s Cancer Drugs Fund is merely papering over the cracks of a system which is no longer fit for purpose, the government has been told.

The CDF should remain until a workable alternative is found, but a long-term, UK-wide solution is needed to the problem of lack of routine access to life-extending drugs – and “not a series of sticking plasters,” says Chris Askew, chief executive of charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

“In the last year alone, three promising drugs for secondary breast cancer have been rejected for routine use on the NHS due to their high cost,” he said, adding that with no CDF in place in Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, patients there are being denied the drugs they need.

Mr Askew was speaking at Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s annual parliamentary reception, at which the charity presented calls for action as part of its Demand a Fair Price campaign, which claims that the inflated prices being set for life-extending drug treatments are creating a barrier which no regulatory system can overcome.

The charity is calling for: - commitment from all political parties to extend the CDF in England until the end of the next parliament; - for the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies to introduce a similar system to the CDF in their own countries; and - for all political parties to commit within their manifestos to finding a long-term, UK-wide solution to the problem of lack of routine access to life-extending drugs by the end of the next parliament, working with the pharmaceutical industry and patient groups.

“Innovative, effective drugs sitting on the shelf are of no use to anybody, least of all patients,” said Mr Askew. “Whilst there will be no quick-fix solution to this problem, the pharmaceutical industry will need to get serious about its pricing and whoever forms the next government will need to get a grip on the problem and take action to resolve it.”

Commenting, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Association (ABPI)’s chief executive, Stephen Whitehead, said that while the CDF has resulted in tens of thousands of NHS patients benefiting from innovative cancer medicines which they would not otherwise have received, the Fund is “a sticking plaster for reversing poor patient access to cancer treatments in the UK.”

The ABPI has called for the immediate evolution of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)’s current appraisal processes for cancer medicines to address the growing issues and challenges around the Fund and to create a permanent and sustainable solution, he said.

“This week, the ABPI will be responding to the NHS England consultation on changes to the CDF standard operating procedure. The ABPI supports an evolution of NICE to support value assessment of CDF medicines rather than the setting-up of any alternative and potentially duplicative NHSE-led value assessment process which will not be an efficient use of NHS resources,” Mr Whitehead added.