I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I appreciate that organisations such as Breast Cancer Now work extremely hard to help support people living with breast cancer, and their families, to raise awareness of the connected issues.
I know Breast Cancer Now has raised concerns that there is confusion between health bodies over who should pay for bisphosphonates, and have called for clear guidance. In response to questions in Parliament the Government has stated that Clinical Commissioning Groups are responsible for commissioning these drugs based upon clinical judgement. I know the Government has recently received a number of representations, including Parliamentary Questions, and I will follow this continued scrutiny with interest.
As you may be aware, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the non-departmental body which provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care. NICE guidelines currently recommend that treatment with bisphosphonates should be provided to patients according to set criteria, however it is currently updating its guidance for early and locally advanced breast cancer while taking into account the latest available evidence. NICE expect to consult on the draft guidance between January and March 2018, with publication expected in July 2018. I will follow the consultation and the outcome of the draft guidance closely.
At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto that included commitments to improve early cancer diagnosis, to speed up waiting times for cancer test results and to create a new Cancer Treatments Fund so that patients would have access to the latest drugs, surgery and radiotherapy.
I believe that although huge progress has been made on improving cancer services in the past decade, we still lag behind other countries, and there is worrying evidence that the progress we have been making on cancer care has stalled, or potentially even gone backwards. No breast cancer patient should end up lost in our vast health system, unable to find the treatment to which they are entitled.