The Cancer Drugs Fund
The Cancer Drugs Fund is a special fund worth £200 million a year. It was established in 2010 to help improve access to cancer drugs for people living in England.
This fund is only available for people in England. The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide separately how they spend their money on health and do not have similar schemes.
The fund is for cancer drugs that aren’t routinely available on the NHS. These are usually drugs that have been shown to work for your type or stage of cancer, but have not been evaluated or recommended for routine use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). This is the organisation that sets clinical guidelines.
Since April 2013, there has been a national list of cancer drugs that are approved for funding by the Cancer Drugs Fund. But applications can also be made for drugs not on this list.
The fund doesn’t replace existing funding processes and is only available after all other sources of NHS funding have been explored.
Am I eligible for funding?
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To begin with, it’s important to talk to your cancer specialist. You can both decide which treatment is best for you by openly discussing all possibilities. This will depend on a number of things, like the type of cancer you have, its stage, any other treatments you’ve had, what the side effects are likely to be, and any other medical conditions you have.
You must live in England to apply for the fund.
List of approved drugs
If you and your cancer specialist agree that a particular drug is right for you and it is on the list of drugs approved for funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund, your specialist will be able to apply online. They will usually receive a response immediately, but it may take up to two days.
The outcome will still rely on the evidence provided by your cancer specialist and details of your individual circumstances.
The list of approved drugs is regularly updated and the drugs that are funded may change as new drugs become available, or if a new drug is made routinely available on the NHS.
Drugs not on the approved list
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Some cancer drugs aren't on the list of approved drugs. For these, your cancer specialist, working with local NHS managers, will look into all reasonable sources of NHS funding before applying to the Cancer Drugs Fund on your behalf.
How are funding decisions made?
Your cancer specialist has to apply online to the NHS England regional team that covers the area where you are to receive or are receiving treatment. A panel of medical experts will review individual requests for drugs that aren't on the approved list.
The panels make funding decisions based on:
the evidence provided by your cancer specialist
your individual circumstances (for example, whether the drug may improve your quality of life or increase your chance of surviving your illness)
any evidence about how well the drug works and the possible side effects
the cost of the drug.
They may consider applications where there is limited evidence.
How quickly are decisions made?
When the panel reviews an application for a drug not on the approved list, they should make their decision within 10 working days.
Panels should give a clear reason for denying funding for a drug.
Our access to treatment section has more information about how drugs are made available in the UK, and about other sources of funding.
Can I appeal against the decision if funding is denied?
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Your cancer specialist can request a review of the panel’s decision through the regional medical director. But they can only do this if they think:
the panel didn’t make their decision using the proper process
the panel didn’t take into account all of the relevant evidence and funding available.
The review panel should make its decision within five days.
Your cancer specialist can reapply to the Cancer Drugs Fund if:
there is a change in your condition that means you’d get more benefit from the drug, or
new research is published that suggests you would get more benefit.
If you have a general complaint about your treatment, you might find it useful to read our information about making a complaint. You may also find our section about making treatment decisions helpful.
How is the drug fund managed?
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NHS England has overall responsibility for managing the fund, with four regional teams carrying out day-to-day administration using national operating procedures.
North of England
Midlands and East
South of England
Contact details can be found on the NHS England website.
If you already receive funding for a drug that was arranged under the old system of Strategic Health Authorities, this change in how the fund is managed will not affect your existing funding for your medication.
It can be very difficult when a drug that you and your cancer specialist feel could benefit you isn’t readily available. You may feel angry, frustrated and let down. Dealing with this as well as your cancer can feel overwhelming.
Having cancer can cause many different emotions, including anxiety and fear.
These are normal reactions and are part of the process many people go through in trying to come to terms with their cancer.
Everybody has their own way of coping with difficult situations. Some people find it helpful to talk to friends or family, while others prefer to seek help from people outside their situation. Some people prefer to keep their feelings to themselves.
There is no right or wrong way to cope, but help is available if you need it.
Our section about the emotional effects of cancer looks at the emotional impact cancer can have, and explains where you can get advice and support.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Cancer Research UK. Cancer Drugs Fund. Accessed 21.06.13.
NHS Commissioning Board. Standard Operating Procedures: The Cancer Drugs Fund 2013-14. 2013. Available from: england.nhs.uk (accessed 21.06.13)
With thanks to: Donna Hakes, Head of Clinical Effectiveness, Specialised Services, NHS England; Geoff Heyes, Senior Public Affairs Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support; Heidi Livingstone, Public Involvement Adviser, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Margaret Stanton, Head of Medicines Access, Department of Health.
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