How did we get into this mess?

Earlier in the year I commented on the achievement of an important academic clinical trial, STAMPEDE, which showed that docetaxel given as soon as a prostate cancer patient relapses can give up to 22 months extra life (even more for some patients). NICE says that the drug should only be given after hormone therapy has stopped working. It will take NICE a year or more to re-visit its guidance but NHS England can make a decision to issue guidance which changes practice immediately.

It is three months since the study was presented, although the inevitable delay until it is published means that the scientific paper is not yet available. However that “immediate” decision is not forthcoming.

The delay in getting docetaxel into earlier use in relapsed prostate cancer is unbelievable bureaucracy. The data are not in doubt. The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council – blue-chip funders. The investigators were our top research clinicians in prostate cancer, led by Professor Nick James from Birmingham. What is more, it is likely that the relatively small costs of the change will be at least balanced by savings in care costs.

This is a gross betrayal of the goodwill of patients who enter clinical studies.  

For those of us who enter studies the altruistic component in our decision-making is significant. We want our contribution to be better treatment for later patients, assuming that better treatment is proven, and we are happy to take that risk. This study is a superb tribute to the patients who entered STAMPEDE. The NHS England delay is an appalling abuse of power.

For a bureaucrat, whatever pompous title he may carry, even if it is Secretary of State, to delay a change in treatment practice betrays all patients entering clinical studies.

Let no-one in Government be in any doubt that this delay also damages cancer research, contradicts everything it says about having targets for cancer survival, and shows that what it says about increasing efficiency is boloney when it comes to actual treatment.