This page explains how new cancer drugs are made available on the NHS, and has information about the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).

New cancer drugs on the NHS

A drug can only be widely used in the UK if it has been given a licence. This licence is also known as a marketing authorisation. You can read more about licensing on the NHS website.

Before new cancer drugs are made available on the NHS they need to be assessed and approved by the relevant organisation for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


In England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produces guidance about which drugs should be available on the NHS. NICE looks at how effective a drug is and how much it costs (called Technology Appraisals). The NHS must make arrangements to fund drugs that have been approved by NICE. If NICE doesn’t approve a particular drug, it may be available through the Cancer Drugs Fund (see below).


In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) advises NHS boards about new drugs. Like NICE, it looks at how effective a drug is and how much it costs. A sub-group of the SMC called the New Drugs Committee (NDC) assesses all the evidence around a newly licensed drug to help the SMC make a decision about whether or not to recommend it.

Sometimes, NHS Quality Improvement Scotland will review NICE guidance and decide if it applies in Scotland.


In Wales, the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) carries out appraisals of new drugs.

Generally, the AWMSG tries to avoid repeating the work of NICE by only carrying out appraisals of drugs that are not due to be looked at by NICE in the coming year. Any NICE guidance on drugs will usually be adopted by the AWMSG.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health reviews Technology Appraisals issued by NICE, and decides whether they should apply in Northern Ireland.

The Cancer Drugs Fund

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was set up in 2010 to give patients in England access to some cancer drugs not routinely available on the NHS.

A number of drugs to treat secondary breast cancer are available through this fund. A full list of the drugs currently available through the CDF is available on the NHS England website.

There were some changes to the CDF in July 2016. Drugs currently available through the CDF will be reassessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) against new criteria during the course of the next year. The outcome of these reassessments could be that these drugs become routinely available on the NHS, stay on the CDF or are made unavailable.

Breast Cancer Care is monitoring how these changes affect access to breast cancer drugs.