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Underfunding in the NHS means that ground-breaking treatments for cancer and dementia could be denied to patients on the grounds that they are “unaffordable”.
A number of dementia treatments are now in late-stage trials. If one proves successful in slowing the onset of the disease, and is subsequently approved by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice), it will now be subject to a further “affordability” review by Health chiefs.
Advocates at NHS England claim that the review will not mean that access to life-saving medicines is denied or delayed because Nice will have to approve the terms of the restrictions as “reasonable”. But Nice also has affordability at its core.
All patients are legally entitled to treatments provided that they are approved by Nice as cost-effective. In real terms, this means that drugs are approved if they cost less than £30,000 for every year of good quality life they provide.
With the Tories’ planning to slash a further £22bn from the NHS budget by 2020, it is difficult to imagine that an extra affordability review will benefit patients.
The underfunding of the NHS is also compounded by the insatiable greed of pharmaceutical corporations. The NHS in England spent £15.5bn on medicines in 2014–2015 — a rise of 19.4% since 2010–2011.
If an effective treatment for cancer or dementia is discovered, patients could be left without treatment as the NHS struggles to shoulder the cost.
It has become commonplace to demand that NHS cuts and sell-offs be halted and reversed. But without also nationalising the pharmaceutical industry, bringing it under democratic workers’ control and management, the NHS will continue to be criminally overcharged for medicine.