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Top-up ban is lifted

Health Secretary announces landmark ruling

OnMedica Staff

Wednesday, 05 November 2008

The health secretary has lifted the ban on allowing patients to top-up their NHS care with drugs paid for privately.

Alan Johnson, confirmed late yesterday, that the NHS should not withdraw treatment from the few patients who choose to pay privately for additional drugs. However, he made it clear that while private care can be carried out alongside NHS care, private treatment should take place in a private facility and must not be subsidised by the NHS.

"This issue was causing distress to patients and their relatives - and none of us wanted that uncertainty and inconsistency to continue. Patients and the public can be confident that from today there will be greater clarity, greater fairness and, most importantly, greater access to a wider range of drugs,”  he said.

The recommendations were contained in a landmark report, published by the National Cancer Director, Professor Mike Richards, "Improving access to medicines for NHS patients". Professor Richards recommended a package of measures to substantially widen access to drugs on the NHS and reduce the need for patients to resort to private treatment.

New proposals by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) also published yesterday, set out a new system for appraising expensive drugs designed to help those with severe illness. At the same time, NICE will work with the Department of Health to speed up the appraisal process, so that patients have faster and more consistent access to new therapies.

The package of measures include, supporting NICE's proposal for greater flexibility in appraising more expensive drugs for terminally ill patients; working closely with the pharmaceutical industry to agree new and more flexible pricing arrangements to increase access to new drugs and speeding up the NICE appraisal process for new drugs so that they become available to patients more quickly;

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, said the best solution had probably been reached. But added: "In reality this whole debate is part of a much wider one about the future of healthcare provision.

"As new, expensive drugs become available, and the population ages, it is increasingly important that society recognises that there are very real limits to what the NHS can and cannot do."

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