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Media blamed for diverting cash to ineffective drugs

Friday September 14th, 2018

A multi-million pound cancer drugs fund was over-hyped in the media, leading to NHS cash being diverted from effective care, experts say today.

“Mostly positive” stories in newspapers led to the 2010-2015 government continuing the Cancer Drugs Fund in spite of “mounting evidence” of its ineffectiveness, according to the report in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Dr Charlotte Chamberlain, a palliative care specialist, said: “By uncritically reporting the assumed benefit of increased access to anti-cancer drugs we do our patients a disservice.

“The price of the hype for pharmaceuticals in the treatment of cancer may cost patients in a number of ways: through potential side effects, by offering false hope without meaningful clinical benefit and preventing investigation of, and investment in, other treatment approaches.

“In an era of alternative facts, journalists, health professionals and cancer charities have a responsibility to interrogate claims of the next big thing.”

The Fund was set up to tackle perceptions that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was too slow to evaluate new cancer treatments.

It gave clinicians access to unapproved treatments – but was eventually handed to NICE to manage as costs spiralled out of control.

Biometrician Dr Grant Lewison, of King’s College, London, said there was three times as much coverage in nine popular newspapers in favour of the Fund than against it.

The researchers say that charities should have done more to publicise the failings in the fund.

Dr Lewison said: “Media reports did not scrutinise the discrepancy between those drugs available through the CDF and those diseases with the greatest health burden, the toxicities of the medicines, nor the opportunity cost of the CDF for other cancer treatments.

“Access at any cost was a clear totem around which the pro-CDF media based its coverage.

“The views of experts who pointed out the intrinsic unfairness of the CDF or the lack of efficacy of, and unpleasant side effects from, many of the drugs seem to have counted for little against the human interest stories of individual patients.”

Cancer care and propaganda: UK newspaper reporting of the Cancer Drugs Fund JRSM 14 September 2018; doi: 10.1177/0141076818796802

Tags: Cancer | NHS | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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