UK allows private top-ups, privately


The UK department of health has published guidance for the national health service on
how to handle patients who want to pay out-of-pocket for licensed drugs that are not
funded by their local health authorities.
Private top-ups to publicly funded healthcare became the subject of heated political
debate after the health technology assessment agency for England and Wales, NICE,
refused to recommend several expensive anticancers for routine use in the NHS on the
grounds of cost.
Patients in some hospitals were allowed to purchase drugs privately and have them
administered at public expense, but other hospitals refused to combine public and private
treatments, insisting that patients choose one system or the other for all of their care.
Some public figures objected to these uneven policies - a postcode lottery, they said -
while others denounced top-ups as the beginning of a two-tier healthcare system. Still
others called for NICE to be abolished, arguing that no patient should be denied
treatment on the grounds of cost.
Professor Mike Richards, the national cancer director, studied the problem and
recommended last year that private payments should be allowed within the health
service. After a consultation period, the government accepted his proposals; the new
policy took effect on March 23rd.
The main principles of the department's guidance are that NHS care should not be
withdrawn from patients who choose to buy additional private care, and that the NHS
should continue to provide free of charge all care that the patient would have been
entitled to had he or she not chosen to have additional private care. But it says the NHS
should never subsidise private care with public money.
It calls for a strict separation of private and public healthcare. "Private care should be
carried out in a different place to NHS care, as separate from other NHS patients as
possible," it advises. By "a different place", it means private facilities or part of an NHS
organisation that has been "permanently or temporarily designated for private care, such
as a private wing, amenity beds or a private room."
Among several illustrations, the department's guidance describes a cataract patient who
wants to pay for a multifocal replacement lens rather than have the NHS standard single
focus lens inserted during surgery. The patient should be informed "that it is not possible
to pay for the multifocal lens while carrying out the surgery on the NHS as it is not
possible to separate the private element from the NHS element of care". SCRIP - World
Pharmaceutical News - www.scrippharma.com FILED 26 March 2009 COPYRIGHT
PHIND: Pharma & Healthcare Ind News - today only (PHID)
Page 23
Informa UK Ltd 2009

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