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NHS drug pledge broken for asthma sufferers and smokers, report reveals

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A promise to ensure that people with severe asthma and smokers who want to quit can get the drugs they need has been broken by ministers and the NHS, a health service report reveals.

Health charities criticised the persistent lack of access to vital medications for patients in England as very worrying and warned that it could damage the health of those affected.

In 2019 the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and makers of branded medicines signed an agreement, called the voluntary scheme, to increase the number of patients able to obtain cost-effective medicines on the NHS.

It covered five key areas of disease in which receipt of drugs would result in “high health gain”. These were cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, stopping smoking by using the drug varenicline, hepatitis C and atrial fibrillation and thromboembolism. 

However, a report which NHS England commissioned – but has not published – shows that while the target has been met for cystic fibrosis and hepatitis C, it has been missed for severe asthma and smokers seeking to quit using varenicline. It compares England’s progress against that in 10 other European countries, including France, Spain and Italy.

“It’s deeply concerning that England languishes near the bottom of the league table for uptake of biologic treatments for severe asthma, the deadliest form of the condition,” said Alison Cook, the director of external affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

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Source: The Guardian, 20 December 2021

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