Wales

Axing free painkillers 'saves £16m' for cancer vaccine

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Free painkillers from the NHS should be ditched in favour of funding a cancer-fighting vaccine for boys as well as girls, an AM has said.

Angela Burns said ending the availability of free painkillers could free up more than £16m a year.

The Conservative shadow health secretary said this could be used to fund a Human Papilloma Virus vaccine.

Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said he had "no intention" of making patients "pay for their painkillers".

Currently, only girls aged 12-13 and gay men aged 16-45 are vaccinated against HPV, which is primarily known to cause cervical cancer but can also cause other cancers by affecting the throat, head and neck, vagina and penis.

Dr Mererid Evans, consultant clinical oncologist at Velindre Hospital in Cardiff, said rates of oropharyngeal (head, neck, tonsils, tongue and throat) cancer have trebled in Wales over the past 15 years.

She pointed to a link between these instances and HPV.

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Media captionAndrew RT Davies said the money could be better spent

Last month, the Welsh Government decided not to extend the vaccine to boys after the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation made an interim ruling against such a move.

Ms Burns said painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen and co-codomol could be bought for pennies on the high street.

She claimed the saving would be "more than enough" to subsidise vaccinating the 36,764 boys aged 12 to 13 in Wales - saying it would cost about £11m.

Ms Burns said failing to do so would "deny young boys a lifetime of protection from a cancer-causing virus" - but by doing so the government could save itself tens of millions on future cancer care costs.

The Welsh Government abolished charges for prescriptions in 2007, with Northern Ireland following suit in 2010, and Scotland in 2011.

'Disappointing'

Mr Gething said: "I have absolutely no intention of making cancer patients and others with long-term, chronic conditions pay for their painkillers, leaving them suffering completely unnecessary pain and distress.

"It is disappointing that anyone should deliberately chase populist headlines and try to override the evidence available on how we make the best use of NHS resources for the people of Wales.

"There are no current plans to extend the HPV vaccine programme to adolescent boys, because the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys would not be a cost effective use of NHS resources.

"A significant population impact is already being achieved in reducing HPV infection by the high uptake in the girls' programme."

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