Access to new medicines

Last week, doctors called for honesty from politicians on cancer treatment as they gave evidence before the Scottish parliament’s health committee which I convene.

Dr Tim Crook, an Englishman looking after patients in Scotland, expressed his frustration that he could not offer Scottish patients the same medication that he could use to treat English patients.    But the inequality doesn’t just lie between north and south of the border.   There is even greater inequality here within Scotland.

Dr. Noelle O’Rourke of the Beatson Cancer Centre told the health committee, that middle class, articulate patients are more likely to get the cancer drugs they need than vulnerable patients from deprived backgrounds.

However, its not just patients who are struggling to get access to the latest drugs. Because the NHS in Scotland spends only just over half the money on cancer drugs than the European average, cancer specialists don’t want to work here.

As a result Scotland has fallen from the top position in the use of innovative drugs to the bottom of the league in the UK.

Unlike his predecessor Nicole Sturgeon who dragged her heels on this issue, to his credit the new Cabinet Secretary for Health Alex Neil has moved quickly to address these issues and has called for a review into the access of new medicines.

I hope that he will go on to act on the concerns of doctors and patients who expect results from this review.

Only then will Scotland regain its place as a world leader in developing new and innovative drugs to treat those who face life threatening conditions.