A YEAR ago this month, the Government blocked my private members bill, which would have ensured that patients benefited from cheap, effective ‘repurposed’ drugs on the NHS. The story of that day, and of what has happened since, shows the best and the worst of our political system.

My Off-patent Drugs Bill was designed to ensure that old, cheap drugs which are shown to be effective in new uses reach the patients that need them, even if there is no financial incentive for a pharmaceutical company to take them through the licencing process.

It had the backing of MPs from all sides, numerous medical research charities and the vast majority of the medical profession.

But all of that meant nothing when the minister stood up and ‘talked out’ the Bill in the House of Commons, to stop it becoming law.

I will never forget how frustrated and helpless I felt that day, as I watched the minutes tick by.

The Government’s actions caused a great deal of anger, both within and outside Parliament, and many clinicians and academics still tell me how frustrated and confused they were.

They know better than anyone the potential of repurposed drugs, not only for patients but also for stretched NHS funds.

However, I didn’t give up.

Less than three months later, with the support of breast cancer survivor Jo Churchill MP and the former breast cancer surgeon Philippa Whitford MP, we secured amendments to the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill and obtained vital commitments from the minister.

The Government promised they would work to develop a pathway for repurposed drugs and have since been holding regular meetings on the issue involving the Department of Health, charities and the industry, working together towards solutions.

They also promised to ensure the British National Formulary (BNF) included repurposed drugs in what is sometimes called the ‘prescribers’ bible’.

The BNF has now undertaken a huge piece of work to update their entries on repurposed drugs, reviewing the evidence on 200 hundred different repurposed drugs or uses.

Once complete, this vital step will help doctors to prescribe drugs off-label with confidence.

This important progress shows that although our system is not perfect, determined backbench MPs can still affect change.

But there’s still more to do.

As research from Breast Cancer Now published last month showed, cheap, repurposed breast cancer drugs are still not getting through to patients.

This case highlights once again how important it is that we look at what is stopping effective drugs being routinely prescribed.

The longer the delay, the more patients suffer as a result.