The Scottish Government’s recommendations last week about the way medicines are to be assessed for use in Scotland are hugely significant.
Arguably, the most important recommendation is on how the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) should change the way it assesses treatments for use at end of life and in orphan (very rare) diseases. This is something that Myeloma UK has fought long and hard for.
Historically, treatments in these areas struggled to get through the SMC process because they were either deemed not to be cost-effective or the manufacturer had not made a robust enough case for their use.
The consequences of these decisions were often played out on the front pages of the popular press or by MSPs when a constituent had been denied access.
These headlines, alongside the introduction of a Cancer Drugs Fund in England, prompted the Scottish Government into action. It will now provide the SMC with further resources and a revised remit for assessing treatments destined for use on the NHS.
It is reassuring that the SMC has been given the responsibility for implementing the majority of the recommendations. Over the past ten years, the SMC has developed an excellent reputation for what it does, free from political interference, and its methods are copied all over the world. However, it would be the first to admit it is far from perfect and it too has welcomed the opportunity to further evolve and develop their work.
As a result, the SMC has been given a clear remit to change the way it assesses treatments at end of life and for very rare conditions while, at the same time, carefully developing a future system to conduct a broader assessment of the value of a new treatment and to consider factors beyond just health gain. The NHS has also been given the remit to discuss issues around cost effectiveness directly with the manufacturer.
Taken together, this should mean that the SMC says yes to more medicines but at prices that better reflect their true value.
The ball is now in the court of the SMC, pharmaceutical companies and others to make this happen and ensure that patients in Scotland get access to the best possible treatment when they need it.
• Eric Low OBE is chief executive of Myeloma UK