Beating bowel cancer together

NHS England extends temporary changes to the treatment break rule

Thursday 1 July 2021

Some advanced bowel cancer patients can take a break from their treatment without losing access to certain drugs, after the NHS in England extended temporary changes to the treatment breaks rule.

The extension means people on advanced bowel cancer drugs cetuximab and panitumumab can take planned breaks from these treatments for longer than six weeks.

Previously, if a patient took a treatment break longer than this, they would lose funding from NHS England. However, the rule was paused early in 2020 and will now remain in place until 1 October 2021, after guidance on interim treatment options was updated today.

The policy was suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of temporary changes to cancer care, and has been reviewed at regular intervals.

The treatment break rule impacts people in England whose bowel cancer has spread to other parts of the body, which is also known as advanced bowel cancer. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t have this policy and patients are allowed to take breaks in their treatment with cetuximab and panitumumab without risking losing funding for their treatment.

We continue to campaign for the treatment breaks policy to be permanently removed through our Get Personal campaign, which aims to improve access to the best treatment for advanced bowel cancer patients.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “While we’re pleased NHS England has extended the treatment breaks policy, many bowel cancer patients continue to be left in limbo, not knowing what the situation will be for them in three months’ time.

“We don’t believe it’s right or fair that people living with advanced bowel cancer in England have the threat of the treatment break rule reverting back to a policy which sees them lose funding for certain treatments if they take break of longer than six weeks.

“England is the only part of the UK where this rule exists and we’d like to see it removed on a permanent basis. This would give patients - who can often benefit from taking a break from bowel cancer drugs, including allowing them time to benefit from some recovery and resilience for further treatment - the confidence that they can return to them following a break.”

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