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Futureproofing the delivery of breast cancer drugs

In this blog we discuss our work with the Pan-Alliance breast cancer group and the UK Breast Cancer Group, to ensure breast cancer services in England can continue to deliver life changing drugs to patients who need them.

In this blog we discuss our work with the Pan-Alliance breast cancer group and the UK Breast Cancer Group, to ensure breast cancer services in England can continue to deliver life changing drugs to patients who need them.

Ensuring breast cancer drugs reach the patients who need them

We know that access to effective drugs in a timely manner is of vital importance to people with breast cancer. For example, for primary breast cancer patients, drugs can reduce the risk of the cancer returning. For people with secondary breast cancer, drugs can slow down disease progression and potentially increase the time people live. That’s why we work to ensure that new and effective drugs are approved for use on the NHS as quickly as possible.

Since 2017, nearly 20 new breast cancer drugs have been approved for use on the NHS in England, with 7 approved in 2022 alone. The significant increase in treatment options available, including for patients with secondary breast cancer, has been very welcome.

However, once drugs are approved for use on the NHS, we need to ensure they can reach the patients that need them. And that the breast cancer workforce is supported and has the resources to deliver this.

Working with the Pan-Alliance Breast Cancer Group

Right now, already over-stretched breast cancer services are facing increased pressures. A number of issues are putting the safe and timely delivery of breast cancer drugs at risk:

  • A combination of the significant increase in the number and complexity of drugs
  • Significant shortages across the breast cancer treatment workforce
  • An increasing patient population
  • A historical lack of data on secondary breast cancer

The Pan-Alliance Breast Cancer Group is a group of representatives including breast oncologists and surgeons from across the majority of Cancer Alliances, Breast Cancer Now and the UK Breast Cancer Group (a forum for breast clinical and medical oncologists). The group is working together with decision makers and stakeholders across the NHS in England to shine a spotlight on this critical issue. This includes:

  • Working with clinicians and decision makers to look at ways the healthcare system can make best use of existing good practice and developments to support the delivery of new drugs
  • Participating in an NHS England working group, looking at the capacity of chemotherapy services across England
  • Advocating for better data collection on secondary patients and access to drug treatments
  • Continuing to call for a fully funded workforce plan, with a dedicated, cancer workforce specific section

Figures at a glance

In England, around 46,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and this is on the increase

New research estimates around 57,215 people are living with secondary breast cancer in England alone. This is much higher than previous estimates of 35,000 people across the UK

There were nearly a million hospital episodes (which indicates the volume of hospital activity) for secondary breast cancer in 2020/21. More than doubling since 2016/17

In 2021/22, over 300,000 courses of drug treatments were delivered for breast cancer patients, increasing from just around 250,000 in 2018/19

46% of breast clinical oncologists are due to retire within the next 10 years

The number of patients with breast cancer is set to increase with an estimated 1.2 million new breast cancer diagnoses between 2023 and 2040

Significant issues with recruitment and retention of both clinical and medical oncologists, as well as pharmacy and nursing shortages, is resulting in unmanageable pressure on breast services

What needs to happen next

There are many steps the Government, the NHS and local decision makers can take to address pressures on breast cancer services. This includes committing to urgently publishing a fully funded workforce plan with a dedicated cancer workforce section. The plan needs to include figures on current staffing gaps and long and short-term plans to reduce them.

We need to act now to reduce the chance of increasing inequality in access to cancer treatments, which could result in declining outcomes for patients.


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