Call for shake-up of Scottish new medicines system

Some Scottish patients are being denied potentially life-saving drugs. Picture: Getty
Some Scottish patients are being denied potentially life-saving drugs. Picture: Getty
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THE system for approving new medicines for patients in Scotland’s NHS needs “significant improvements”, a Holyrood committee has warned.

A Scottish Government review has “done little to address the barriers that currently exist” for patients denied potentially life-saving medicines, MSPs said.

The report from the health committee, which has an SNP majority, comes after a series of high-profile rows about patients being denied cancer drugs in Scotland that are available on the NHS in England.

MSPs said they “remained concerned” about patient access to treatment despite government experts calling for reforms to the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), which advises NHS boards on whether to use new drugs.

Professors Philip Routledge and Charles Swain told the committee in evidence that the SMC should listen more to the views of patients about access to NHS medicines and meet in public when it decides whether to approve drugs.

However, the health committee claimed the proposed shake-up did not go far enough and said a “better and more transparent” system was needed.

There was also a call for a “national patient treatment request body” that would allow patients to apply to a single Scotland-wide organisation for access to a drug rather than the current system of decisions taken by local health boards.

However, the committee rejected calls for Scotland to follow England and set up a cancer drugs fund to pay for drugs to treat cancer victims, saying there was “little support” for it north of the Border.

The report comes after the case of a patient who is considering moving to England to get free access to drugs she cannot be prescribed on the NHS in Scotland. Maureen Fleming, 63, was diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago, but was refused the drug Cetuximab by Scotland’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The Scottish Government was asked by MSPs in yesterday’s report to “outline steps it plans to take that will improve the process” for the Individual Patient Treatment Request system which patients use to get drugs not yet approved by the SMC.

The report went on to demand a shake-up of the system for approving medicines to deliver greater consistency for patients in all parts of Scotland.

It said: “Moving towards a national patient treatment request body may be the most effective way to ensure both a consistent application of individual patient treatment requests and group patient treatment requests criteria as well as consistency in decision-making.”

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, insisted that the findings showed Scotland “cannot continue with a system that has thrown up high-profile injustice after injustice”.

Scotland’s health secretary Alex Neil said the Scottish Government would now consider the findings of Holyrood’s health committee as well as those of professors Routledge and Swain.

He said: “Access to new medicines is a complicated and important issue, and we must ensure that further improvements to the system are taken after very careful consideration.”