Recent research has shown that bisphosphonates, drugs commonly used to manage osteoporosis and advanced cancer, could prevent one in ten breast cancer deaths by reducing the risk of breast cancer spreading, at an average cost of just 43p per day per patient.
However, the lack of clear guidance over who should be funding these drugs and how they should be prescribed has meant that they are not being routinely given to all eligible women. A survey conducted by the UK Breast Cancer Group showed that only one in four clinicians were able to offer these drugs. While it is believed that this figure has improved since the survey was conducted, it is clear that the majority of patients are still not being offered this treatment.
At Breast Cancer Now, we don’t think that’s acceptable. That’s why a few weeks ago we launched our 43p a day campaign which calls on the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to step in and fix the situation. We believe it is up to him to ensure that it is clear who is responsible for funding these drugs nationally and to issue clear guidance to local health bodies to ensure that bisphosphonates are being offered to every patient who could benefit from them.
In just a few short weeks, over 4,000 people have joined our campaign and emailed their MPs asking them to urge the Health Secretary to act. But so far, he hasn’t listened.
What’s Jeremy Hunt doing?
Despite the evidence that these drugs could save lives and despite the evidence that a significant number of clinicians haven’t been able to prescribe them, Jeremy Hunt is yet to take any action to fix the problem. He’s passed the buck to local commissioners and insists that there isn’t a problem.
While clinicians tell us that without a clear clinical pathway and funding to purchase the treatment, bisphosphonates can’t be prescribed, Jeremy Hunt is sticking to the line that there are no barriers preventing these drugs being given to patients.
In their response to the MPs that have contacted them about this issue, Hunt’s team have also pointed to the update of the NICE guideline on the diagnosis and management of locally and advanced breast cancer. This, they say, will look at the use of bisphosphonates and we should wait until it is published.
The update is not expected to be published until July 2018 and it will be a clinical guideline, not a commissioning document, and it will not include a ‘funding direction’. So, not only would we have to wait nearly a year and a half for this guideline to be published, when it is it will not address the issues we have raised. We don’t think waiting for a guideline to be published in 2018, that won’t tackle the problem we have highlighted, is an acceptable solution.
When faced with Jeremy Hunt’s inactivity, what’s particularly troubling to us is the fact that we know women are missing out on drugs that could potentially save their lives. Women who are frustrated that there is a cheap, effective treatment out there that they could be taking if only Jeremy Hunt would step in to fix the situation. Women like Jill in Epping. Women who would be eligible for this treatment but who’ve instead been left wondering why their lives are being put at risk for the sake of 43p a day.
So, we’re not going to let the issue drop, but we urgently need your help.
We have to demonstrate to Jeremy Hunt and the Government the strength of the public’s feelings on this issue. If you haven’t already, please email your MP to let them know you support the campaign and you want them to write to the Health Secretary about it.
The current government has said that it is committed to improving survival rates for people with cancer. If it wants to deliver on this commitment, then it needs to act now so that people can access bisphosphonates - a low cost, life-saving treatment.
What are bisphosphonates? Find out more about how bisphosphonate drugs can help prevent some women’s breast cancer spreading.