NHS England warned against ‘divide and rule’ tactics over claims HIV drugs deprive cancer patients

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Healthcare groups have warned NHS England not to pit patients against eachother, after the body fuelled claims that HIV-preventing drugs would deprive cancer patients of treatment.

NHS England is currently embroiled in a legal battle with an HIV charity over the commissioning of HIV-preventing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis drugs, which can reduce risk of HIV transmission by as much as 99 percent.

The story has led to a string of questionable stories in the press – with the Daily Mail had claimed PrEP drugs are a “promiscuity pill” with a “skewed sense of values”, while the Times claimed PrEP would rob children with cystic fibrosis and cancer of vital care.

HIV groups pointed to press releases put out by NHS England in the wake of the ruling, which appeared to fuel the suggestions that other patients’ groups would lose out to a ‘less worthy’ treatment.

However, this week a number of specialist health charities have come together to warn NHS England not to play “divide and rule” on the issue in a joint letter.

Representatives of Parkinsons UK, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Epilepsy Action, the Hepatitis C Trust, The Pituitary Foundation and Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia UK joined together with the Specialised Healthcare Alliance, National Voices and Terrence Higgins Trust in a joint letter to NHS England.

The letter says: “Over recent weeks, we have been alarmed by the ‘divide and rule’ tactics used by NHS England when communicating which new treatments it will make available to patients.

“These funding decisions affect the lives of people with a range of rare or complex conditions.

“As organisations representing the patients who would benefit from these treatments, we are concerned by the way in which NHS England has publicly pitted the interests of one patient group against another in its press statements. All patients, and all conditions, matter.

“In light of this week’s High Court hearing about HIV prevention drug, PrEP, NHS England will soon look again at which treatments it will fund.

“Whatever the outcome, we must not see a repeat of this divisive approach.

“We understand the NHS must make difficult choices. All we ask from our national health service is to adopt an ethical and transparent approach in taking these decisions and to communicate them in a way that is respectful to the people who are affected by them.”

MPs including former health minister Norman Lamb, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Andrew Gwynne also backed the letter.

It comes as the issue is back in court today, as NHS England appeals a verdict in favour of the National AIDS Trust.

NAT is defending their position, supported by the initial Court decision, that there is no legal impediment to NHS England funding the drug. NHS England states that it cannot legally fund it as it is a prevention intervention.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at NAT, said: “It’s enormously disappointing that the NHS England has insisted on re-litigating the initial judicial review decision.

“The wide ranging arguments it makes will have a chilling effect on both HIV prevention and public health more widely in England.”

Parliament’s Health Select Committee recently said the dispute has exposed flaws in the government’s localised health legislation.