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Posted on 23rd January 2017

Patients will be hit by drug cost-saving plans

Patients in England may face delays in getting new drugs as NHS bosses try to cut costs by trying to negotiate the costs of the most expensive treatments.

As the pressure on the health service increases, NHS management are entering talks with drug companies to try and get the prices down.

Last year £16.8bn was spend on drugs in the NHS, this was over a £3bn more than in 2011.

The proposals mean that only drugs that cost less than £20m a year will be paid for. About a fifth of new treatments cost more than this.

The plans are a joint initiative of NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which is in chard of which drugs the NHS use.

Patient groups and the drug industry have objected to the plans over the past three months’ consultation.

NICE chief executive, Sir Andrew Dillion, said: "The pace and scale of innovation require NICE and NHS England to collaborate closely to ensure patients are benefiting from faster access to the most cost-effective treatments,"

Current drug approval process

Currently drugs that are cleared as being cost effective by NICE are automatically available for use in the NHS.

The health service then has 90 days to start offering the drugs to those that need it.

The assessment does not consider how many people may need to take the drug and what the total cost of the NHS might be, it looks at the cost based on the impact of an individual.

New cost saving plans

The new plans any drugs that will breach the £20m limit will face a secondary process. 

The new process will only apply to new drugs, however if it was in place already it would have affected the rollout of drugs such as Lucentis which is taken by 1,200 people with diabetes to prevent them from going blind.

Researchers say the decision is “flawed”

Researchers say that NICE’s system is flawed as it failed to take into account the variations in illness and disability. 

NICE uses a method called quality-adjusted life years (QALY) for working out the value of new drug treatments in England and Wales.

John Cairns, professor of health economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the NICE's appraisal committee for 10 years, said: "QALYs are certainly not perfect and we should be looking for better ways of informing decision making.

"But getting rid of an imperfect system without replacing it with a better one is not the way forward." 

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