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Patients Association: new drug rules are in many ways sensible, but NHS England is in danger of leaving patients behind in its rush to implement them

Commenting on NHS England’s consultation on changes to the availability of certain drugs, Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “Restricting the use of drugs that are ineffective or even dangerous should be a matter of good housekeeping for the NHS, but in practice patients’ needs and wishes seem to be getting overlooked.

“We are concerned that, while NHS England has kept us informed of its work, it has developed these proposals without any input from patients. No patient or patients organisation sat on the working group that drew them up.

“There will be some patients for whom these drugs represent the least worst option, taking their needs overall into account. Doctors will still be able to prescribe them.

“We will work with NHS England to ensure they hear patients’ views, and help with their communications to patients. We would have liked to be able to do this before the proposals were finalised.

“Similarly, the consultation’s approach to over-the-counter medicines sets hares running. While it might make little sense for the NHS to pay pounds for medication that the individual can buy for pence, there will be people who would struggle to afford even that, and others whose long-term conditions will mean that even regular small payments would represent a large long-term cost.

“This debate needs to be much more firmly rooted in the question of how these anomalous charges can be minimised in a system that is free at the point of use. The brief discussion of the issue published today leaves patients in the dark about what the NHS might look like if changes are introduced in this area. Will doctors become financial gatekeepers of medicine?

“We must not end up in a situation where individual doctors have to decide whether to give someone a prescription or send them away to buy a medicine themselves. We have seen repeatedly that clinicians struggle to apply complex eligibility criteria, such as with the Livepool Care Pathway, Continuing Healthcare assessments and even PIP assessments, which are all notoriously prone to refusing assistance to people who desperately need it. This consultation mustn’t become the first step down another of these roads.

“Finally, it should be said that the timing of these proposals can’t be a coincidence. While there’s merit in looking at all of these issues sensibly, the fact that it’s happening now is yet another indication that the NHS does not have the financial settlement it needs from government to provide a comprehensive health service.”

Notes to editors

The consultation on items that should not be prescribed routinely in primary care can be read here: https://www.engage.england.nhs.uk/consultation/items-routinely-prescribed/

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