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A new ‘sensible treatment’ drugs fund will improve access on the NHS

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One of the key complaints of patients in the NHS has been that new treatments and new drugs are not available to them. The NHS always assesses new drugs for clinical effectiveness whilst also looking at the health economics of the treatment. The body responsible for this is the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). They assess how cost-effective any new treatments are.

Post code lottery

However, even when drugs have successfully been through this process and have been recommended for use by the regulator, the local NHS health boards have often been slow to provide funding. In addition, they have sometimes been inconsistent. Patients in one area find that their consultants can prescribe a drug, while patients living in another area can’t get access to it. This leads to accusations of a “postcode lottery” in which a person’s address defines their medical treatment.

There are also differences between the way that England and Scotland fund new medicines and the approach taken in Wales. In England and Scotland, there are established funds to provide access to new treatments, but these are linked to specific illnesses and conditions. In England, this is a cancer drug fund, while the fund is used to provide extra cash for treatment for patients with terminal illnesses or rare conditions in Scotland.

The government has now allocated £80 million to Welsh health boards to allow patients access to new treatments.

Unlike the funds in England and Scotland, the Welsh fund is not tied to specific conditions. Once clinical trial services like have been used to conduct all necessary trials and the drug in question has been recommended by NICE as both safe and economically effective, the fund can be used to provide it to patients.

Quicker access to new drugs

This will mean that patients can access new medicines more quickly – perhaps as much as two months earlier. Health boards will have to make speedier decisions on making a treatment available and will not be allowed to wait until the appeal period has ended.

The Welsh branch of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has welcomed the new initiative. However, patient representatives pointed to the fact that supplementary services, such as specialist nurses and monitoring, were as important as access to the drugs.