‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments to be rolled out

Sir Simon Stevens has announced that ‘coronavirus-friendly’ cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the pandemic will be expanded and extended through a £160 million initiative.

The NHS England chief executive said that the funding will pay for drugs that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.

Since the start of the pandemic, coronavirus-secure cancer hubs have been set up to safely provide surgery for those who need it. This is alongside a wave of new cancer therapies.

New analysis shows that these less risky but effective cancer therapies have been given to almost 2,000 people during the first few months of the pandemic, allowing their treatment to go ahead when it might otherwise have been delayed or not safe to give at all.

Some of these new options mean that patients can take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side-effects instead of undergoing hospital-based treatment that can leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

Targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma – bone marrow cancer – are among the options now available for clinicians and patients.

Stevens said: “Since the first case of covid in England six months ago, NHS staff have fast tracked new, innovative ways of working so that other services, including A&E, cancer and maternity could continue safely for patients and it is thanks to these incredible efforts that 65,000 people could start treatment for cancer during the pandemic.

“We are now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the Covid-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This is encouraging news for some patients, who could now go ahead with their treatment, when it might have previously been on hold due to Covid-19. In recent years, successful price negotiations between the NHS and drug manufacturers have significantly improved patients’ access to new cancer medicines, but cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic, so it’s fantastic to see this work continuing throughout this difficult period.

“Steps like this to adapt the care patients can be offered together with the creation of Covid-protected safe spaces, will be critical in minimising the impact on people with cancer and ensuring their survival.”

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Following the 2017 Naylor Report into NHS estates, it has been estimated that estate upkeep costs have reached approximately £10bn in annual funding for 2019/2020.

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