A drug used in treating cancer is now on the shelf after the Government changed its approach to making it available.
The drug, called rituximab, was only available for treatment of lung cancer and was used to stop patients’ breathing during chemotherapy.
The move was controversial after it was revealed that the drug had been approved in the US for treating melanoma, a form of cancer.
The NHS is currently preparing to give rituzimab to all patients, and a Department of Health spokesman said the change had been made after consultation with all stakeholders.
“We have consulted extensively with patients’ groups, health professionals and health regulators, as well as the wider community,” he said.
“As a result, rituxtra is no more available for NHS patients to use than it was before the change.”
The change has been welcomed by some patients, who said it would have given patients a choice of whether to use it or not.
“I feel that it would be better for me to just not be taking the drug and just have to hope it works,” said one patient who wanted to remain anonymous.
“If it works, I don’t think I’ll be going into it,” said another patient.
But for others, the decision was the best thing that could happen to them.
“It makes sense to me, it would save me money,” said a woman who wanted her name withheld.
“People are not used to seeing their healthcare treated in a way that is a lot cheaper, so they’re quite reluctant to try something that they think may not be the best option,” said the patient.
The decision to stop ritoximab being used to prevent cancer has been criticised by some, including Cancer Research UK, who described it as a “brazen misuse” of NHS funding.
“This drug is being used for a treatment that has been approved for use as a last resort in a cancer population and, therefore, will not be approved for clinical use,” said Dr Matthew Allen, director of Cancer Research England, in a statement.
“The use of this drug is a breach of the most basic principles of medicine, which are to ensure the highest quality of care and to ensure patients are fully informed of the risks and benefits of a treatment before they choose to use them.”
“This decision will leave millions of people without the medicines they need, and will mean the NHS will be forced to provide the drugs they need at a time when it can’t afford to,” he added.
But Dr Allen said the Government was “not giving up” on the drug.
“Our plan is to ensure that the money allocated to RITUXIMAB will be used to make it easier for the NHS to meet the needs of those patients that need the drug the most,” he told the BBC.
“So we’re making sure that as long as we can, we’ll continue to make this drug available, and that the funding for the drug will continue to be there.”
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