Concerns over cancer fund future
Cancer charities are warning of uncertainty over future access to life-extending drugs when a dedicated fund ends next year.
The government's £650m Cancer Drugs Fund has paid for treatment for some 28,000 patients in England since 2010.
But it will end in 2014, and cancer charities are calling for clarity about what will replace it.
The Department of Health said it would "make sure arrangements were in place" to replace the fund.
The new pricing system - called value-based pricing - is set to start in 2014 and could affect many medicines used by the NHS, not just cancer drugs.
But there are concerns the details of the scheme are still not clear.
In January, MPs on the Health Select Committee suggested a "lack of clarity" on its future meant cancer patients and their doctors were in the dark.
Beating Bowel Cancer says patients with that form of the disease have made up the largest group to benefit from drugs paid for by the fund - 36% of the medications it funded have been for bowel cancer.
The charity has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for clear guidance on how a new system of funding will work.
Its chief executive Mark Flannagan, said: "The uncertainty around how these drugs will be funded in the years to come will mean patients who could benefit from having treatment in the future, may be denied access because the money isn't there to fund it."
He added: "We simply can't go backwards to a time when cancer patients had to beg for life-extending treatment."
Heather Walker, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "The government needs to find long term, sustainable solutions to fund all effective cancer treatments, be they drugs, radiotherapy or surgery, so that patients are given the best care possible.
"The fund is due to close next year and it's crucial that cancer patients don't lose out."
She said the Department of Health should publish details of the new system - and what would happen to the Cancer Drugs Fund - "as a priority".
'Fairness and consistency'
Health minister Lord Howe said the government would "make sure there are arrangements in place" from next year to protect patients receiving treatment with drugs funded by the Cancer Drugs Fund.
He added: "For the longer term, we are considering ways in which patients can continue to benefit from drugs provided through the fund."
But Laura Weir, head of policy and campaigns at the MS Society and chair of the Patients Involved in NICE group, said people with other conditions needed to be considered too.
"At the moment, we don't know what value-based pricing would look like if it was introduced.
"We do know that today, people have problems getting the life-changing medicines they need across a range of conditions - whether that is MS or Alzheimer's or cancer.
"What we need in the future is a healthcare system that promotes fairness and consistency in access to these treatments."