Thousands could be given cancer drugs before they are approved for the NHS
Good if it happens. The delay at the moment is routinely deadly
Thousands of cancer patients could be given access to breakthrough treatments that are not yet available in Britain. Those who have exhausted every option would be offered a ‘last chance’ by trying drugs a year before doctors are allowed to prescribe them.
David Cameron wants to speed up the time it takes between a life-extending treatment being invented and it being given to the sickest patients. The process can take up to 20 years, but today the Prime Minister will announce plans for an ‘early-access scheme’ that would enable drugs to be fast-tracked through months of bureaucracy. The Government insisted that this would not mean bypassing safety checks or putting patients at risk.
It is hoped that the system will especially benefit patients with brain tumours, lung cancers or other rarer forms of cancer, for which there are very few drugs available.
Last month a report showed that survival rates for brain, lung, stomach and pancreatic cancer had barely improved since the 1970s, with most patients not living beyond a year. By contrast, the chances of beating breast and bowel cancer had more than doubled over the same period.
At present, all new drugs must first be approved by either the European Medicine’s Evaluation Agency (EMEA), which regulates drugs across the EU, or the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK watchdog, before they can be prescribed in Britain.
This process can take more than a year. Firms have to submit data proving the treatment is both highly effective and safe which is then scrutinised by various panels. Even when a drug has been given the green light, it must be approved by NICE, the rationing body, before it can be prescribed to patients on the NHS. This can take another 18 months.
And if NICE deems the treatment too costly it will be available only to patients who pay privately or those who secure funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund. But under the early access scheme, the MHRA will provisionally recommend certain drugs that have not yet been through the lengthy approval process.
Patients and their doctors will be given detailed information about the treatment so that they can decide whether they want to use it. If they agree, the patients would be given the drug free on the NHS.
It is not clear whether patients would have to sign disclaimer forms meaning that they could not sue hospitals or doctors if they suffer any side-effects.
Ministers hope that the new system will also encourage more drugs firms, particularly smaller companies, to develop new treatments. Under the current system, many will incur a huge financial loss while a drug that has cost them millions to develop is scrutinised by the regulator. So the sooner they can make up this deficit by selling their drug to the NHS or private patients, the better.
A few patients can already benefit from drugs which are not yet available in Britain by taking part in clinical trials, but this is dependent on whether their doctor knows about the drugs.
One in British three nurses ‘dissuaded’ from blowing the whistle on poor patient care
Nurses are more likely than ever to be discouraged not to report their concerns about quality of care on NHS wards, a survey reveals. The poll of more than 3,000 nurses for the Royal College of Nursing, found more than a third of nurses (34 per cent) had been told not to raise problems at work.
Some 73 per cent said managers had told them not to speak up, while 24 per cent said work colleagues had said it was a bad idea. Even when they did dare to blow the whistle on poor care, no action was taken in almost half of cases. Issues included patient safety and having too few staff on duty.
The RCN said the results suggest pressure on staff is intensifying – in 2009, just 21 per cent of nurses said they had been discouraged or told not to speak out.
The survey follows heavy criticism of nursing care in a series of reports from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Patients Association. It found that more than 80 per cent of nurses had raised concerns with employers about issues relating to NHS wards. Yet 84 per cent admitted they worried about being victimised or expected a negative effect on their career from whistleblowing.
Of those who reported concerns, around a third filled in incident forms (an official record regarding threat to patient safety), while 72 per cent had told their line manager.
Overall, just one in five of nurses said their employer took immediate action (down from 29 per cent in the 2009 survey), while 48 per cent said no action was ever taken (compared with 35 per cent previously).
There has been an improvement in knowledge about whistleblowing, with 73 per cent of nurses aware their trust has a whistleblowing policy (in 2009 45 per cent did not know either way). However, only 42 per cent were aware they were protected in law from reprisals if they raised concerns about wrongdoing.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, said: ‘It is extremely worrying that nurses are being explicitly told not to raise concerns – after all we have learnt about the consequences when problems are not tackled.
‘Cases such as the terrible situation that arose at Stafford hospital, precipitating a major public inquiry, should be adequate warning about the consequences of slashing staffing levels and ignoring staff concerns. ‘It’s very important that, when we know 56,000 posts are at risk in the NHS, staffing levels across the board don’t lead to another disaster.’
Dr Carter said senior managers ‘must demonstrate in practice’ that concerns are welcomed and will be acted upon. He said staffing was an issue. ‘It is patients who suffer where staffing levels are eroded and concerns are not dealt with, so the impact of cuts cannot be underestimated.’ he said.
Public health minister Anne Milton said: ‘Nurses have a professional duty to express concerns about patient care and anything that goes against that is simply unacceptable. ‘We are enshrining whistleblowers rights in the NHS Constitution.’
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Nurses need to raise their concerns if they see care that is unacceptable and should not be in a situation where they are afraid to because of worries about reprisals. ‘Far too frequently we hear through our helpline that patients have been neglected or treated appallingly. ‘Nurses need to have to confidence to speak out against poor care such as this.’
Row as British school tells 11-year-olds to write letter to PM about retirement income for teachers
A school has been criticised for telling pupils to write letters to David Cameron – asking him not to cut teachers’ pensions. Parents were horrified to learn the Year Six pupils had been ordered to write to the Prime Minister arguing he should not reduce public sector pensions.
The children – aged 10 and 11 – were left bewildered by the task, with some even having to ask teachers what a pension was before starting their letter.
Parents have accused the school, which was closed this week after so many teachers went on strike over pension changes, of trying to politicise the youngsters. One, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Surely this is far too political, especially at the moment, for 11-year-olds to be questioned on. ‘About half of the kids in the exam had no idea what a pension was. I believe a number of the children even asked the teachers.’
The pupils were asked to write the letter as part of a three-hour entrance exam in the top stream at the over-subscribed Poole High School for September next year.
‘These exam questions are to test the children’s ability with English and spelling and how to construct sentences,’ the parent added. ‘They are normally asked to write about a journey or holiday or something like that. ‘The subject matter in this instance was totally inappropriate. ‘It was bringing politics into the classroom and was in danger of politically influencing young minds.’
After complaining to the school the parent was told the question had been a mistake, and the teacher who set it was to be formally rebuked. ‘When I complained to the deputy head teacher she was quite open about it,’ the parent said. ‘She said she was shocked and only realised what the question was two days later. ‘She agreed that it was a completely inappropriate question to ask and that she was sorry. ‘I was told the teacher who set the exam question was due to go before the chair of governors for a telling off.’
The school, where three quarters of staff belong to unions which chose to strike over pension changes this week, is partially selective. The three hour examination process is something parents can choose to send their children to.
The school has since apologised, admitting the test was ‘inappropriate’.
Mrs Fan Heafield, deputy head at Poole High School, said: ‘Students are required to take a three hour academic test as part of the school’s annual admission process. ‘This includes a short writing task on a topical subject in the media, of which the students may have some knowledge.
‘The purpose of the exercise is to assess students’ competency in spelling, punctuation, structure of writing and vocabulary. ‘The writing produced by students in this task is intended solely for the purpose of internal marking by an experienced teacher and is not for wider distribution to external individuals or organisations.
‘Clearly, on this occasion, the subject chosen for this task was inappropriate and we would like to apologise unreservedly for any concerns this may have caused parents or students. ‘We will ensure that our pre-test procedures do not allow this situation to arise again.’
Poole High School has recently been accepted to be a specialised school for Business and Enterprise to train pupils to become ‘wealth creators’.
Long may Jeremy shoot his mouth off
Humourless whiners who complain about Jeremy Clarkson should be taken out and shot. There, I’ve said it too. I’m going down with Jeremy. I’m happy to. I love his brand of humour and I will defend to the death (by shooting) my right to enjoy it.
Those people who deliberately try to take offence by interpreting his jokes literally and who seek to silence him in the name of the ‘rights’ of the people he lampoons are interfering with my right to laugh at life.
I really do fear that if we give in to these sanctimonious idiots we will all end up automatons who dare not speak for fear of being accused of something Orwellian sounding like ‘hate crime’ or ‘verbal assault’.
Mr Clarkson’s comments on the BBC’s One Show about public sector workers may have been bad taste, but there was still no law against bad taste in this country the last time I checked, although admittedly it feels like that day may be coming closer.
He said, and I quote: ‘I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. How dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions while the rest of us have to work for a living.’
Here’s the thing: he said it in a funny voice. It was A Joke involving something called ‘exaggeration’.
Often, when constructing A Joke, one exaggerates until an absurd or bizarre concept is created – in this case the idea of shooting striking teachers in public, which, in reality, one would never do. Get it? Oh dear. Maybe they still don’t understand.
Right, let’s try another one. Later Mr Clarkson added: ‘I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading. It’s always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst.’ ‘You just think, why have we stopped because we’ve hit somebody? What’s the point of stopping? It won’t make them better.’
That is called black humour. Black humour used to be very popular before we all climbed so far up inside our own preciousness that we couldn’t laugh at the dark side of life any more.
But this is a perilous way to go. A joke about people throwing themselves in front of trains is not only darkly funny, it has a very important purpose too. Ask any psychologist and they will tell you that human beings need to laugh at sad or disturbing things in order to process them.
As such, the best comedy often comes from the saddest circumstances. From dark, comes light. Sometimes the jokes work, sometimes they don’t particularly. But we still have to try. We have a proud tradition of this sort of thing, and we should defend it. As the comedian nailed to the cross once said: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’
Leftist hate speech in Britain
“A Labour councillor is under investigation after posting a string of outrageous comments on Twitter, including scathing remarks about the attractiveness of his female opponents.
In one offensive tweet, Julian Swainson, the Labour group leader on Waveney District Council in Suffolk, said: ‘It reminds me of the council chamber game “Who would you shag if you had to?” looking at the opposing benches.’
Last night, the Tories sent a formal letter of complaint to Labour leader Ed Miliband, arguing that the communications were ‘so grossly offensive’ that Mr Swainson could have broken the law.
Mr Swainson’s messages on the social networking site included personal attacks on Tory MP Nadine Dorries, a description of the Tories as ‘evil b******s, the Dark Ages party’ and a semi-pornographic reference to Santa Claus.
Colin Law, leader of the Conservative-run authority, said in his letter to Mr Miliband that he was enclosing ‘a small six-week sample’ of Mr Swainson’s communications ‘that are so grossly offensive at least one potentially contravenes section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act’.
Under section 127, a person is guilty of an offence if he ‘sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message ….. that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’.
Mr Law said he was including examples of comments that were offensive to women and others with ‘racist overtones’. He also accused Mr Swainson of ‘using terms of abuse for his political opponents that relate to mental disability, sexual orientation and parentage’.
Yesterday, Mr Swainson said he had removed the message about the chamber game, and added: ‘I accept that taken out of context it could be seen as offensive and I apologise for that. Things taken out of context are misinterpreted sometimes.’
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up — on his usual vastly “incorrect” themes of race, genes, IQ etc.