'COVID-friendly’ cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the pandemic 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,

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has announced.

Thousands of patients have already benefitted from almost 50 treatments approved for use as ‘swaps’ for existing drugs and more will be available from this week, 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.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, said: “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.