3 Mar 2009 09:34 AM
NHS patients to benefit from new measures to improve access to drugs

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service.

A package of measures designed to speed up access to new drugs and treatments for NHS patients, was announced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and Health Minister Lord Darzi today.

The four proposed changes will ensure that more NHS patients receive the life-saving, clinically and cost effective drugs and treatments they need faster. It will also ensure that where NICE guidance has not yet been issued for a new drug or treatment the local NHS makes more robust and transparent decisions about what treatments it will fund.

The measures announced today by Lord Darzi and NICE are:

* A consultation on a new and faster system for referring drugs to NICE for appraisal - proposals will enable NICE to issue more timely guidance, in turn giving patients faster access to drugs and treatments.

* An additional new appraisal committee - to ensure that NICE has the capacity it needs to appraise new drugs and treatments as promptly as possible;

* Increased investment in "horizon scanning" to ensure that new drugs are identified early on for appraisal; and

* A guidance document for the NHS - detailing good practice on how decisions on new drugs should be made by Primary Care Trusts where there is no existing NICE guidance . This will be supported by a programme of training and support to assist theNHS to implement the guidance.

Announcing the package of measures, Health Minister, Lord Darzi, said:

"Last year in High Quality Care for All I set out our commitment to speed up the NICE process. Together, the measures set out today build on this commitment and will help provide faster and fairer access to new drugs and treatments - great news for patients.

We are delighted to be working in partnership with NICE to ensure that new drugs and treatments are assessed sooner and more quickly in future, leading to improved and higher quality care for patients.

"The guidance for PCTs will help the NHS to ensure that local decisions are robust and transparent, leading to more consistency in those exceptional cases where there is no existing NICE guidance."

Chief Executive of NICE, Andrew Dillon, said:

"This is an important consultation on the way that topics are chosen and referred for NICE's world-leading appraisals of new drugs and treatments. We are very keen to ensure that our guidance is produced as quickly as possible to benefit patients and the NHS.

"Speeding up non-cancer appraisals by at least three months to come in to line with the cancer appraisals, and increasing transparency by clarifying topic selection criteria, are just some of the potential improvements we and the Department of Health are suggesting.

"The views of patients, the public, health professionals and other stakeholders on the proposed changes to the topic selection process will be very helpful, and we look forward to receiving their comments."

The consultation on the proposed changes to the NICE topic selection will run for 3 months whilst the guidance to PCTs will be issued to the NHS with immediate effect.


1. Any further media enquiries on the guidance to PCTs or this announcement in general should be directed to the DH Newsdesk on 020 7210 5221.

2. Any media enquiries related to the work of NICE and its processes or the management of the consultation on the proposed new selection criteria should be directed to the NICE Press Office on 0845 003 7782.

3. The new appraisal process which will be consulted on will include the following:

* New joint DH/NICE exclusion and prioritisation criteria for technology appraisals. The new criteria apply to both cancer and non-cancer appraisals. We believe these new criteria will allow NICE to operate the early stage of the process with less DH involvement.

* No "minded" referral stage for any technology appraisal topics. This change will mean there is a single point of Ministerial referral for all drugs.

* Smaller, more frequent batches of topics referred to NICE, up to 6 times a year rather than 3 times as now.

4. The consultation document can be downloaded from http://www.nice.org.uk/getinvolved

5. The additional investment in "horizon scanning" capacity will be through the Department of Health's existing contract with the University of Birmingham.

6. The guidance to PCTs sets out in detail the framework for rational decision-making and contains realistic examples of processes that are seen to be working in the NHS. It is intended to be an evolving document, which will be modified to take account of experience. It can be accessed on the National Prescribing Centre's website http://www.npc.co.uk

7. The measures also support the implementation of the recommendations in Mike Richard's review on the funding of additional private care. Following his review new guidance was issued to the NHS which made clear that the NHS should not withdraw treatment from the few patients who still choose to pay privately for drugs which are not funded by the local NHS.