Health minister Shona Robison was slammed after claiming Scotland provides world-leading cancer care
Charities and opposition politicians rounded on her after she boasted that Scotland “is now one of the top nations in the world for accessing new medicines for cancer”.
Her comments came as the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) approved life-prolonging breast cancer drug Kadcyla – but only after patients applied pressure with a national campaign, a 13,000-signature petition, and letters to the First Minister.
Critics also pointed out that a raft of vital new treatments for various types of cancer – including breast, pancreatic and kidney – had been rejected by the SMC over the past two years, while hundreds of cancer patients were being forced to endure lengthy waiting times.
Ms Robison made the controversial comments as she announced £300,000 of funding for a new scheme to investigate if the latest medicines are as effective in real life as they are in clinical trials.
She said: “We’ve dramatically increased access to new medicines, particularly for cancer, due to our recent reforms and investment, and Scotland is now one of the top nations in the world for accessing new medicines for cancer.”
But Karen Stalbow, head of policy at Prostate Cancer UK, said that key treatments had only been made available in Scotland after “a protracted process of rejection and appeal”. She added: “That is not the hallmark of a country leading the world in access to new treatments.”
Charities and opposition politicians rounded on her after she boasted about Scotland cancer care
Ms Stalbow welcomed the new research but added: “It does nothing to streamline access to new treatments, which is a key issue to resolve before Scot-land can truly stake its claim as a great example on the world stage.”
We’ve dramatically increased access to new medicines, particularly for cancer
Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “Shona Robison’s comments suggesting Scotland is one of the best countries in the world for providing cancer treatment are misleading.
“The SNP have failed to meet their own target of treating urgently referred cancer patients within 62 days since it was introduced in 2013.
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“They have also consistently missed their diagnostics test target, and delayed diagnosis can have a serious and detrimental impact on cancer patients.”
Critics pointed out that a raft of vital new treatments for various cancers had been rejected
Last month, pancreatic cancer patients were dealt a blow when the SMC refused Onivyde – a drug that could allow them to live twice as long – on cost grounds. A host of breast cancer treatments – including trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), pertuzumab (Perjeta) and everolimus (Afinitor) – and kidney cancer treatment nivolumab (Opdivo) are also among drugs to be rejected in the last two years.
Kadcyla, which can give breast cancer patients extra months of life, was eventually approved by the body yesterday after four patients launched a petition calling for it to be made routinely available.
The announcement was welcomed by cancer campaigners and politicians alike, but Labour’s Anas Sarwar said it was “disappointing” it had taken so long to gain approval.
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He added: “The Government now needs to work with the Scottish Medicines Consortium to ensure the system operates more effectively in the future.”
Last night, Kevin Armstrong, head of policy and campaigns at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Today’s news, while positive, does not solve the problem of patients with this disease being denied fair access to life-extending treatments on the NHS.
“That’s why we are currently gathering signatures for a petition calling on bodies such as the SMC to remember, when considering treatments, that most pancreatic cancer patients live for just two to six months after diagnosis.”
Critics also believe that the SNP have not met their target of treating 'urgent referrals'
“Giving patients with this tough disease in Scotland every possible chance to spend precious time with their families, and put their affairs in order, simply must be a priority.”
Karen McNee, of Kidney Cancer Scotland, said life-extending drugs, available in England and Wales were rejected for patients in Scotland, adding:: “Support for kidney cancer patients needs to improve.”
Figures released last month revealed that hundreds of cancer patients are not receiving treatment within 62 days of their “urgent referral”, despite the health service being obliged to meet that target under Government rules.
One cancer sufferer in Fife was forced to wait a staggering 309 days – or 10 months – for vital treatment.