Fifty people a day risk going blind because the UK’s National Health Service is refusing to fund a Pfizer drug which will not be assessed by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) until next August, campaigners have warned.
AMD Alliance, a group of charities led by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, has urged primary care trusts to endorse the local prescribing of Macugen (pegaptanib) for all types of wet age-related macular degeneration. The drug was licensed for the condition in Britain in May. The charities claim AMD condemns 16,000 people in England to blindness every year.
Research published by the alliance suggests that 90% of PCTs are not funding the treatment and even in the remaining 10% the number of patients being treated is “miniscule”.
Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the RNIB, said: “This report confirms what we have long suspected and what wet AMD patients have been telling us: that PCTs are refusing to fund a licensed treatment, even though it could save patients’ sight. Fifty people a day are being condemned to blindness – the actions of the PCTs are simply unacceptable.”
The report concluded that some PCTs only consider treatment once a patient has lost sight in one eye while many others are waiting for guidance from NICE.
Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents PCTs said: “The licensing and regulatory processes are there to ensure that new drugs are both safe and cost effective, as well as to protect patients. So it is understandable that some primary care trusts will not want to prescribe certain drugs before they have been through NICE’s processes.
“PCTs receive a fixed allocation of money to deliver all the services for their local community and have to take difficult decisions on competing priorities. Every decision about spending taxpayer’s money is a moral one because a pound spent on one drug means a pound less for another.”
Echoing previous high-profile controversies over the new generation of cancer drugs, a NICE spokesman said: “There is no restriction on the prescribing of any drug, within its licensed indications, whilst NICE is developing guidance. In the absence of NICE guidance, local NHS organisations should develop their own prescribing policies.”
He said that switching the assessment to its fast-track process at this point would delay guidance even further because work is well underway.