South West doctors welcome roll out of ‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments

Doctors in the South West have welcomed the announcement by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens that ‘covid-friendly’ cancer treatments will be expanded and extended through a £160 million initiative.

The funding will pay for drugs that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.

Thousands of patients have already benefitted from almost 50 treatments approved for use as ‘swaps’ for existing drugs and more will be available, thanks to a series of deals struck between the NHS and pharma companies.

Some of these new options mean that patients can take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side-effects instead of undergoing hospital-based treatment that can leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

Targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma – bone marrow cancer – are among the options now available for clinicians and patients.

The funding for Covid-friendly drugs is just one of the innovations adopted by the NHS to care for patients since the first case was confirmed in this country on January 31.

The introduction of ‘111 First’ has provided help and advice to millions of patients over the phone and internet, ensuring those who need medical help are directed to the right services.

Remote consultations have spared many more unnecessary trips to the doctor’s surgery or outpatients clinic, with more than 500,000 GP online consultations a week.

Covid-secure cancer hubs have been set up to safely provide surgery for those who need it.


Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said:

“Since the first case of covid in England six months ago, NHS staff have fast tracked new, innovative ways of working so that other services, including A&E, cancer and maternity could continue safely for patients and it is thanks to these incredible efforts that 65,000 people could start treatment for cancer during the pandemic.

“We are now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the Covid-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system.”

New analysis shows that these less risky but effective cancer therapies have been given to almost 2,000 people during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing their treatment to go ahead when it might otherwise have been delayed or not safe to give at all.


Dr Amelia Randle, Clinical Director for the Somerset, Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire Cancer Alliance, said:

“We welcome the news of these Covid friendly cancer treatments that many people in the South West will be able to benefit from. This means they will be able to have treatment at home with fewer hospital visits and less of an impact on their immune system”.


Dr Bryson Pottinger, Associate Director for Cancer Services, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“Many thousands of patients have benefited from a list of about 50 drugs and that scheme has now been extended with further drugs added. This is good news for cancer patients as it means they can continue on their treatments or for some start new treatments”.


Other treatment options now available include:

  • Venetoclax in acute myeloid leukaemia as an oral alternative to more toxic standard chemotherapy
  • Nivolumab for patients with bowel cancer whose cancers have a specific genetic fingerprint
  • Ixazomib in myeloma as an oral alternative to treatment which would require more hospital visits and injections
  • Atezolizumab as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy.

Funding will ensure that thousands of patients can continue to receive safe, effective and kinder treatment during the pandemic, often with fewer hospital visits.