Star comment: Tricky balancing act with new and expensive drugs

The issue with the drug Keytruda is typical of the quandary facing the NHS.

The drug is for women with incurable secondary triple negative breast cancer and its aim is to slow disease progression, buying patients extra time.

But the initial decision was that, on the balance of the available facts, it was not worth the cost of allowing its use widely across the NHS.

The experts that make up the committee on NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – have an almost impossible job.

New developments and technology bring a range of new treatments, all of them costing a huge amount of money at a time when the NHS budget is limited and under pressure with post-Covid challenges. They must be objective and judge which treatments are seen as being for the ‘greater good’ and those where the cost is perceived to be more than the benefit they give.

For the 100 or so breast cancer patients now able to take Keytruda, the drug is very much worth it. It will give them more time with their families and a better quality of life as well.

On a human level the decision is absolutely correct, of course. But it is only one of many that NICE has to make and, while the NHS budget remains limited, the difficult choices will have to continue to be made.

The NHS is there to service our needs, not our wants, and the two are not always the same. Sometimes, there are tough decisions as resources are allocated to save a greater number of lives. Our hearts go out to those who need help, while our heads recognise the need to manage budgets. Cheaper treatments are the answer, though they take time.

Eva Abley is an inspiration to us all. The Britain’s Got Talent star has faced immeasurable challenges but has risen above them. She is an example of how following your dreams can bring success and with it a new confidence in life. It is also a lesson that people should be celebrated for what they are – the differences we have are what make us special.

We should dare to be brilliant, to follow our hearts. Putting one step in front of the other and reaching our potential brings great joy – not just to ourselves, but to those who love us.

Eva’s courage, determination and, let’s face it, huge talent are what makes her great. She will need support as she processes what’s happened but her family and friends will support her. There will have been many others watching who’ll have been inspired. Eva will have made a difference in the best possible way.

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