17 Jun 2011

NHS: Government U-turn gives drug powers back to NICE

Health and Social Care Correspondent

The Government has backed down on its plans to strip the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) of its duty to recommend drugs and treatments for the National Health Service.

Andrew Lansley (right) with David Cameron and Nick Clegg during a hospital visit (Reuters)

The Government has backed down on its plans to strip the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) of its duty to recommend drugs and treatments for the National Health Service.

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had included the controversial proposal in the Health and Social Care Bill. But on Friday it emerged that he has had to perform a U-turn after an appraisal by the Department of Health.

Under the plans, the internationally-regarded body would have been responsible for appraising new drugs and treatments, but it would have been left up to doctors to decide whether they should be prescribed.

This had led to fears that England would see the return of a postcode lottery with some consortia of doctors agreeing to a treatment and others not.

Doctors were also concerned that it would affect their relationship with their patients because they would be personally responsible for refusing a drug to a person sitting in front of them in the surgery. Under the current system, they can pass the blame to NICE if the treatment has not been approved as cost effective.

Mr Lansley is continuing to push ahead with his plans to introduce value-based pricing of new drugs, in which the price the NHS is willing to pay for medicines will be determined by how effective they are. NICE will now work within that remit.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that patients must continue to have access to cost effective drugs, and that NICE should have a key role in the operation of value-based pricing.

“We have previously confirmed we will retain the right to drugs and treatments for patients, as recommended by NICE, up to 2014. In our response to the NHS Future Forum report this week, we confirmed this would continue after January 2014, when value-based pricing for new drugs is introduced. We will be setting out more details on this shortly.”