Drugs to be approved for NHS use within six months, ministers announce

Patients will get approved drugs on the NHS within six months instead of waiting up to two years, as ministers announce plans to speed up the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

by Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor, The Daily Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:12PM GMT 03 Mar 2009

The drug rationing body, Nice, has been accused of being too slow in its appraisals of drugs meaning patients are forced to wait years for medicines which may prolong their lives.

Ministers have announced a package of measures to speed up the process including adding another committee of experts to consider the drugs and 'horizon scanning' earlier in the drug development programme for medicines that will need to be referred to Nice.

The move comes after Nice ordered its committees to put extra weight on the final months of life when appraising drugs for terminal patients with rare conditions.

This followed public outcry over draft guidance which did not approve four kidney cancer drugs, including Sutent, which can extend the lives of sufferers by months.

Guidance is being issued to primary care trusts which decide whether to fund drugs where Nice has not appraised the drug or has not yet come to a decision.

PCTs have their own panels which consider individual patients for 'exceptional case' funding but this has led to a postcode lottery where all people in one area may be funded but none in a neighbouring area. The guidance is aimed at making the decisions more consistent and training will be provided to help.

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."

Andrew Dillon, Chief Executive of Nice, 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."

A consultation on the proposals will run for three months.

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