NICE offers new hope for patients with asbestosis

For the first time, patients and their doctors will no longer need to choose between trying a new medicine which has the potential to extend their life and the alternative of claiming Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and a lump sum from the Workers’ Compensation Scheme. Drugs which slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis were previously  accessible only to patients who develop it because of old age. Patients whose illness had been caused by asbestosis, which is mainly caused by exposure to asbestos at work, were denied the treatment because it had not been trailled on people with asbestosis. This led some docors to warn patients that they would have to choose between an effective treatment or getting financial help, but they could not have both.

NICE has changed its guidelines

Now, after a five-year review, the NHS spending watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has agreed that more patients can access these antifibrotic drugs. Professor Gisli Jenkins, a respiratory expert at Imperial College London, said, ‘Allowing these patients to finally access antifibrotics will allow them to live longer and healthier lives.'[1]

How is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis different from asbestosis?

More than 70,000 Britons are currently living with pulmonary fibrosis, with the majority of them suffering from a version called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Idiopathic is a medical term for an unknown cause, whereas people who had been exposed to asbestos knew what was making them ill. These non-IPF patients were not offered antifibrotics on the NHS because drug trials had not included them, so there was no data to show how well they might respond to the treatment. However, campaigners have long argued that the drugs are equally effective for patients with asbestosis.

Why the NICE experts changed their minds

Steve Jones, chairman of Action For Pulmonary Fibrosis, said: ‘Britain is the only country in the world where access to antifibrotics has been restricted to only certain patients with pulmonary fibrosis.'[1]

The NICE review concluded there is now enough evidence to offer the antifribrotic drug Nintedanib to non-IPF patients on the NHS, provided scans show their lung capacity has not been impacted so seriously that they are beyond treatment.

[1] Quoted in, last accessed 11/11/2021

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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