A new round of cuts to NHS cancer treatments are to be announced within days, The Health Magazine understands.NHS England is meeting pharmaceutical companies this week to tell them whether their medicines will remain on the Cancer Drugs Fund.
The fund currently allows patients to access 37 drugs that are not routinely available on the NHS in England.
More than 20 treatments were removed or restricted in January in an attempt to rein in an overspend of almost £100m.
But manufacturers will now be told whether the remaining drugs pass a new, tougher assessment of benefit – and whether they offer value for money.
Cancer charities warn further cuts will deny patients access to life-extending treatment.
But a spokesperson for NHS England told Sky News: “The Cancer Drugs Fund has a finite pot of money and the re-evaluation is part of a process to ensure the best drugs are on it.”
More than 76,000 patients have had their lives extended since the fund was established in 2010 to make new drugs available while they are assessed by the medicines watchdog NICE.
Bowel cancer patient Ben Ashworth was told he had less than a year to live before starting treatment on the drug Cetuximab, via the fund.
Two-and-a-half years on, two tumours that had spread to his liver have since disappeared and another one in his lymph gland has shrunk. He has run 17 marathons in 17 months.
He said the threat to the drug “scared me to death”.
“It made my blood run cold,” said Mr Ashworth. “The prospect of other people being denied the medication that has given me amazing extra time with my family is shocking.”
The pharmaceutical company Roche is the largest beneficiary of the Cancer Drugs Fund.
It makes Avastin, the most frequently requested treatment, and Kadcyla, which at almost £6,000 a month is the most expensive drug on the list.
The drugs extend lives by a matter of months.
But Roche’s medical director Dr Dan Thurley warned NHS England failed to recognise how significant that can be for patients.
He said: “How do you value an extra Christmas with your family? How do you value being there when your son or daughter gets married?
“We need to think holistically about how medicines are valued by society because that is when you make the best outcomes for patients.”
He added: “As a rich country, the NHS can afford this.”
From April next year the fund will be completely overhauled, with drugs only allowed to remain on the list if they are proven to be effective in the ‘real-world’ of the NHS, not just clinical trials.
A public consultation on the changes is due to start in September.
But Karl Claxton, a health economist at York University, said the fund should be scrapped altogether.
His calculations show 21,000 patients a year are losing out on life-saving or life-enhancing treatments for heart, lung and gastro-intestinal diseases because NHS money is diverted into the Cancer Fund.
“The Cancer Drugs Fund has been a scandalous use of public money and an unethical use of NHS resources,” he said.
“It has put the interests of manufacturers ahead of patients and it is time for the political will to be found to address the underlying problem of the price being charged for drugs.”