Cystic Fibrosis Drugs: Orkambi DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Mr Gregory CampbellMain Page: Mr Gregory Campbell (Democratic Unionist Party) - East Londonderry)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) on setting the scene so well for us, and all the right hon. and hon. Members who have made such fantastic contributions on a subject in which we all have a deep interest.
This is an issue that I have spoken on many times in this Chamber and indeed outside it. I have received emails from constituents with photos of their children, begging me to do something to give these precious little ones a better quality of life. If ever we needed to be reminded of the importance of this for the children, as every hon. Member has said, that is such a reminder.
Let us be clear: cystic fibrosis is not only, tragically, a life-limiting disease, but a disease that massively impacts on the quality of life and the life experiences of the sufferers and their families, because the families live the children’s tragedy as well. Cystic fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life-threatening inherited diseases. It is caused by a defective gene carried by one person in 25, usually without their knowing it. That is more than 2 million people in the UK, and if two carriers have a baby, the child has a one in four chance of having cystic fibrosis.
Around 10,400 people in the UK have cystic fibrosis; that is one in every 2,500 babies born. It affects some 100,000 people in the world. According to the most recent report from the UK Cystic Fibrosis Registry, based on people with CF who were recorded as alive from 2013 to 2017, half of people born with cystic fibrosis in 2017 were expected to live to at least 47, but the 132 people with CF who died in 2017 had a median age of 31. That is a massive difference and we cannot ignore it.
Parents are begging me, begging us, begging this House to ensure that those years are of the best possible quality. After numerous trials, some carried out with Northern Ireland constituents, Orkambi seems to be a drug that does exactly that for many people—enabling the best possible quality of life. My most recent correspondence from Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary for health in Northern Ireland, outlined clearly that he does not have the power to do what we all need him to do and what he wants to do:
“Let me say that I share your disappointment that the progress in making this drug more widely available has not advanced as we had hoped. At the heart of this matter is the inability of the manufacturer Vertex to come to agreement with the relevant UK Health Technology Assessment bodies.”
I thank my hon. Friend for those words. This is not an easy subject for the Minister to respond to, but it is one that has captured the interest of us all on behalf of our constituents, and we need the Government to grasp that and move it forward to the next place. We look for that.
If the Republic of Ireland is able to come to some arrangement with Vertex, if the Scottish Parliament is able to do similar and if, according to the background information, it is possible to go to Argentina and buy a year’s course of drugs for one patient at £23,000, compared with £104,000 for a year’s supply here, that tells me that something can be done if we had the willpower to do it, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) has said. We can look around at our UK neighbours and look toward Scotland, whose Government has reached an agreement with Vertex.
The permanent secretary went on to say:
“In the absence of this positive NICE determination, the Health and Social Care Board…may take into account guidance produced by other appropriate HTA”—
health technology assessment—
“bodies based in other UK countries such as the Scottish Medicines Consortium…when making decisions about access to new drugs.”
I say to the Minister that I have made a comment about the Republic of Ireland, but I also make a comment about Scotland, because I think that the process enables us to use what Scotland has done as an example for us elsewhere.
The permanent secretary continued:
“The Department is aware that Vertex have re-applied to the SMC for consideration of approval for Orkambi, and that in the meantime there is currently limited access to the drug in Scotland via their PACS”—
peer approved clinical system—
“Tier 2 scheme, which is broadly analogous to our Individual Funding Request Process.
If Orkambi is approved by the SMC, details of the funding models in place, which are currently bound by commercial confidentiality, will be shared with the other UK countries. This will allow for us to have full access to the evidence and costs associated with this therapy and will inform any further decisions on access.”
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) referred to the destruction of some medications. Whatever the reason for that was—whether they had run out of time or whatever—I think it is disgraceful that people have destroyed some medicines rather than letting them be used by the general public, by those who need them. If that is not unacceptable in this day and age, I do not know what is. It is absolutely disgraceful; it really annoys me.
It is simply terrible that we are in a position where our hand are tied. I say again to the Government: look to your Scottish counterparts. I firmly believe that we can and must do more from this place and that that must start with acknowledging that the NICE guidelines do not currently take into account the differences, when it comes to pricing, between treatments for rare diseases and a new antibiotic strain. We need a new form of assessment for rare diseases and I would like to see that taking place as soon as possible to ensure that the mummy of my two-year-old constituent, who is asking me for this drug in order to give her child as normal a life as possible, can look forward to securing the best for her child. That is what every Member has said here today on behalf of their constituents.
Again according to the background information that I have, in May 2019 the Government said in response to a parliamentary question that discussions between Vertex, NHS England and NICE were ongoing. You know something? They have been ongoing for more than a year. Let’s get them sorted. Time is passing fast. I am joining colleagues in asking the Department to make the administrative changes necessary to end the Orkambi stalemate with NICE and to put in place a body designed specifically to address rare disease patients and their needs. We acknowledge that NICE does a tremendous job in ensuring that safe, cost-effective medicines are available on prescription, but we need a different set-up for those whose illnesses are very different and for the sake of my constituents and those represented by other MPs who have spoken today. I am asking that those decisions be taken and the changes made to enable Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary at the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, to do what he knows he needs to do and allow the prescription of Orkambi to those whose lives would be radically altered and enhanced by it. It would give them life-changing opportunities. As others have said, give those children a chance.