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Torfaen MP Nick Thomas-Symonds has worked with MPs from England, Scotland and Wales, spanning three of the main political parties, to change a Bill before Parliament and to secure measures to improve access to cheap, potentially life-saving drugs on the NHS.
The Welsh Labour MP, whose Off-patent Drugs Bill was ‘talked out’ back in November, has led efforts to use another Private Members’ Bill – the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill – to secure important measures on off-patent, repurposed drugs. Today, during the Bill’s Report Stage they passed two amendments to the Bill and obtained commitments from the Minister to take forward a number of non-legislative steps and to ensure that repurposed drugs are prescribed on a more consistent basis right across the UK.
The Torfaen MP has been working closely with Conservative MP Jo Churchill, who has herself suffered with breast cancer, and SNP health spokesperson Philippa Whitford, a breast cancer surgeon, to secure important commitments from the Government on improving access to repurposed drugs. The group of new MPs, who were all elected in 2015, have worked with Chris Heaton-Harris MP who brought forward the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill and the Minister for Life Sciences to try and incorporate measures on repurposed drugs into the Bill.
Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “I am delighted that by working on a cross-party basis we have been able to secure these important steps forward on off-patent drugs. I hope this will lead to the wider use of cheap, effective drugs in Wales, not only saving lives but also saving the Welsh NHS money.
“Whilst I’ve had to compromise on some of what my Bill originally proposed, if the Government now acts, these measures will help to ensure that patients right across the UK have access to cheap, potentially life-saving drugs for conditions, including breast cancer, Parkinson’s and MS.
“When my Private Members’ Bill was talked out back in November there was a lot of anger at the Government’s response and frustration with the Private Members’ Bills system. But instead of giving up, I’ve tried to use the momentum to find a way forward that the Minister could support. That we have made so much progress in less than three months shows what can be achieved when MPs of all parties work together for a common purpose.”
Philippa Whitford MP, the SNP health spokesperson said: “I was disappointed that the Off-patent Drugs Bill was talked out in November as I felt there was an issue in getting repurposed drugs more widely adopted by non-specialists and non-medical prescribers.
“Like the majority of Doctors, I was also very concerned about the dangers of the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill but, through working in a cross-party basis, we have removed the sections which posed a threat to safe clinical research and have suggested a way forward for off-patent drugs found to have a new purpose.”
Conservative MP Jo Churchill said: “With this Bill, we have the potential to deliver three essential things. Patient access to repurposed, off patent drugs which have strong evidence for effective treatments, medical advancements with the use of patient information and an increasing awareness for the potential of repurposed drugs for all clinicians and patients.
“This unique opportunity as part of a coalition of cross-party MPs, shows the strength of a common cause which will at some point will touch the lives of everybody.”
This comes less than three months after the Torfaen MP’s Private Members’ Bill on off-patent drugs was talked out in the House of Commons.
The Off-patent Drugs Bill would have improved access to low-cost treatments for a range of conditions including breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. At the time there was anger that the Government had blocked the Bill which had the backing of senior clinicians, the British Medical Association, four of the Medical Royal Colleges and 12 medical research charities including Breast Cancer Now, the MS Society, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and The Brain Tumour Charity. The Government said that whilst they agreed with the Bills intentions, they could not support the mechanism which it proposed.
Since then Mr Thomas-Symonds has continued to campaign on the issue and has worked with MPs from all parties to find a way forward. As a result, a package of amendments were tabled at Report Stage of the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill which were supported by MPs from eight different parties. Two of these amendments were passed and the Minister made firm commitments to improve access to repurposed drugs with a number of additional non legislative steps.”