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New rules to tackle drugs lottery

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Hospitals that delay acting on guidance from the health watchdog will be forced to explain hold-ups to patients, it has been announced.

The new rules, brought in to tackle perceived disparities regarding available treatments, will allow the public to see ‘scorecards’ comparing the speed at which hospitals roll out innovative care methods and medicines.

Currently primary care trusts (PCTs) in some areas delay offering new drugs as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), while in other parts of the country they are available to patients straight away.

Under the scheme, which is expected to be rolled out before autumn, hospitals will have “no excuse not to provide the latest Nice-approved drugs and treatments”, the Department of Health said.

Organisations will be automatically added on to publicly available lists of what drugs are available in local areas. It is hoped the rules will create a level playing field for treatments such as IVF, for which patients living in different regions have had varying levels of opportunity for the treatment. Last year a report found more than 70% of NHS trusts were ignoring NICE guidance to offer infertile couples three chances at IVF, and some stopped funding treatment altogether.

The study, from a cross-party group of MPs, found PCTs placed strict restrictions on who is eligible for IVF. Most PCTs put limits on the age at which they will treat women - but one PCT was only allowing women to be treated between the ages of 39 and 40. This means younger women can wait years for NHS treatment despite the fact fertility declines with age.

Some of NICE’s most recent guidance, recommending an extended time to administer a clot-busting drug to treat stroke patients, for example, will soon have to be taken on by all hospitals. The Department of Health said the regime will be made up of three different parts:

  • An ‘innovation scorecard’ will be published, which will allow patients and the public to see which organisations are quickly adopting the latest Nice-approved drugs and treatments
  • The NHS will have no excuse not to provide the latest Nice-approved drugs and treatments. They will be automatically added onto lists of what drugs are available in local areas, which will be published for all to see. This means new drugs and treatments will be automatically made available for doctors to prescribe across the NHS
  • Making the uptake of new drugs and treatments quicker by setting up a new group to help local NHS organisations implement NICE guidelines. New drugs and treatments can mean the NHS has to make big changes to the way they provide services, which can be a complicated process.

Health minister Paul Burstow said: “Patients have a right to drugs and treatments that have been approved by NICE. “This new regime will be a catalyst for change - we are determined to eradicate variation and drive up standards for everyone.

“NHS organisations must make sure the latest NICE-approved treatments are available in their area, and if they are not, then they will now be responsible for explaining why not.

“Being transparent with data like this is the hallmark of a 21st-century NHS. It is a fundamental tool to help healthcare professionals improve patient care.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Pirate and Parrot

    'The NHS will have no excuse not to provide the latest Nice-approved drugs and treatments. They will be automatically added onto lists of what drugs are available in local areas, which will be published for all to see. This means new drugs and treatments will be automatically made available for doctors to prescribe across the NHS'

    This bit has not been well-received by everyone - in particular, the people who manage the money, don't seem to like it.

    The normal paradoxes, are present here !

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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