The Department of Health has issued new guidance on the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) which, it says, should help National Health Service patients in England get much faster access to innovative medicines.

Launching the new guidance for operation this week, Health Minister Lord Howe said applications to the Fund will now no longer have to go through primary care trust funding processes, substantially quickening up the system.

Consequently, in the majority of cases, patients will now be able to get access to cancer drugs within days of applying to the CDF, the DH notes.

In addition, Lord Howe announced plans for an audit of the CDF, "which will provide evidence from drugs funded through the Fund for the benefit of wider NHS practice".

According to the DH, the audit will help support the effective allocation of funding, ensure the funding is being in used in accordance with local arrangements, and improve the evidence on how these drugs perform in real-world clinical practice.

Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) will be expected to provide prospective data from April this year, and retrospective data to April 2011.

The CDF is the brainchild of the coalition government and was brought in to tackle the country's relatively poor standing on access to the latest cancer drugs. The £200 million a year fund allows cancer patients to get the medicines considered most appropriate by their clinicians, thereby side-stepping the usual cost-effectiveness channels.  

Monies underspent?

But earlier this week (April 23), the Daily Mail reported that a large chunk of the cash available under the Fund has not been accessed. It claims that money is still available in all regions in England and that more than £60 million has been underspent, largely because of bureaucratic hurdles facing those trying to access the Fund.

According to the paper, North West SHA has around £20 million untouched from allocation of £29.6 million, while, by the end of February, London had spent around £19 million of its £30.4 million portion.

It is hoped that the new guidance published by the government will help to address the issue. However, according to Kate Spall, who runs campaign group the Pamela Northcott Fund, while it's "a great step forward to allow doctors to go directly to the Fund...we need to know why a postcode lottery still exists". 

"Some oncologists and GPs know very little about the fund while others have been deterred from applying for various reasons", she told the Daily Mail.