Another week, another decision from the NHS.
We are advised that patients could face delays in accessing new drugs on the NHS after a decision made by health bosses that treatments requiring the most expensive drugs can be (or should be?) stalled.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (otherwise known as NICE) has strict rules in relation to approval and affordability of drugs in the UK. It now appears that even when a drug has been approved by NICE that NHS bosses have the ability to stall delivery of the drugs to those requiring them.
The stalling tactic applies to any drug that is potentially likely to cost in excess of £20m in the first 3 years of its use in the NHS. So whilst most would assume that this will only apply to very expensive drugs – for instance for medicines used in the treatment of cancers – this is apparently not so. Some cheaper drugs used by hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis ie: statins/blood pressure tablets/drugs for diabetics could also fall into this bracket purely because of the number of people using them.
At the moment when a drug is approved by NICE the rule is that the NHS have 90 days in which to make it available to the public. In an effort to save money it is planned to extend/amend the rule so that in some cases for up to three years new drugs will not be available to the public for up to 3 years.
On the positive side it does however mean that the NHS has more time to negotiate and agree a “fair” price with the drug company rather than being given a set price. Will it mean that drug companies withdraw new drugs in an effort to “force” the NHS to compromise and purchase sooner rather than later? None of this however helps those in need of medication, and it’s absolutely abhorrent to suggest that those suffering from life limiting disease can wait.
This is in addition to being told of late that not only is there a shortage of hospital beds, (apparently several hundred less available than this time last year), that the 2 week rule for cancer referral is no longer viable, and that those with heart problems, and orthopaedic issues will just have to wait, that non urgent surgery will no longer take place – and add to the mix the (non)availability of drugs.
At the beginning of this year in the region of half a million people were awaiting hip, knee or other orthopaedic surgery in the UK. As mentioned, these ailments are considered non urgent and treatment is being delayed. Little (or no) thought is given to the pain endured by those awaiting such surgery and how it affects their lives on a daily basis. It has been reported that doctors are merely prescribing pain killers, with little regard to the effects of delaying treatment and that when the surgery eventually takes place it can be more radical and the recovery time prolonged due to delays. At present the waiting time for “non-urgent” surgery is 18 weeks; the NHS has stated that it is not possible to guarantee this any longer.
In a further effort to save money It has recently been reported that he NHS is to stop giving free travel vaccinations, that GP’s have been told to stop prescribing sun creams, gluten-free foods and some drugs which can be readily bought over the counter in an effort to rescue its ailing finances. We are advised that something in the region of £114m is spent annually on medicines for upset stomachs, haemorrhoids, travel sickness and indigestion remedies, and that around £22m of this is spent on prescribing gluten-free foods that can be bought at the local supermarket.
As we are aware Theresa May has been asked to increase health funding. As a nation we are living longer and with that comes health issues. It is frequently mentioned in the press that “unfortunately” due to an ageing nation many hospital beds are taken up by those who many years ago would not have survived the ailments they suffer from today.
It appears that there are big changes afoot in the NHS.