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This debate pack has been compiled in preparation for the debate. It contains a brief summary of the issue and a selection of relevant media articles, press releases and Parliamentary Questions pertinent to the debate.

How cancer drugs are authorised

There are a number of different steps a drug must go through to be authorised for use by the NHS and the process for the assessment of drugs’ clinical effectiveness and value for money varies in different parts of the UK. England is the only part of the UK that has a specific fund to pay for cancer drugs that would not ordinarily be provided by the NHS due to their high cost. Cancer drugs may also be funded by the Scottish Government’s New Medicines Fund, set up last year to expand and replace the Rare Conditions Medicines Fund, which supports health boards to fund the cost of orphan, ultra-orphan and end-of-life drugs for patients.

Before a medicine can be sold or prescribed in the UK it must receive a marketing authorisation (previously known as a product license) either from the European Medicines Agency or from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Doctors can prescribe any medicine that has received a marketing authorisation although the NHS has policies, both at the local and national level, which specify what will and will not be funded.

Cancer drugs in England and Wales

Patients in England and Wales have the right to cancer drugs and treatments that have been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE technology appraisals consider the clinical and cost-effectiveness of new healthcare interventions and the NHS in England and Wales is legally required to fund those treatments recommended by NICE in its technology appraisal guidance. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (HPSS) in Northern Ireland also uses guidance issued by NICE in determining its funding decisions.

Cancer drugs in Scotland

There is a different system for making decisions on the funding of drugs in Scotland, where the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) also reviews all new drugs on the basis of their clinical and cost-effectiveness. NHS boards in Scotland are expected to follow the advice of the SMC.

Further information

Further information about how each part of the UK decides which drugs to fund can be found on the Cancer Research UK website.

Debate packs are intended to provide a summary or overview of the issues being debated and identify any relevant briefings including press and parliamentary material. A more detailed briefing may be prepared for a Member on request to the Library.

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