New hope for Scots refused life-saving drugs on NHS

The assessment of new drugs for NHS Scotland is to be reviewed
The assessment of new drugs for NHS Scotland is to be reviewed
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A REVIEW has been ordered into the way drugs are assessed for use in the NHS in Scotland in a move health campaigners say could end the “postcode lottery” for patients.

• Current system will be reviewed to ensure fairness and to look for any improvements

• Review will also compare how other countries assess new drugs

They hope the review into how the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) looks at the clinical and cost-effectiveness of new drugs could mean access for patients to a wider range of medicines – many of which are already available in other parts of the UK.

Health secretary Alex Neil announced the review yesterday saying it had been set up to ensure the SMC operates in the same way as other similar bodies around the world and to find out if there were ways to improve how it assessed drugs.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “Patients will be relieved this review is taking place. There is growing frustration among patients in Scotland that too many drugs are being denied to them, yet they are widely and easily available in other parts of the UK.

“This review has the potential to end the postcode lottery on access to potentially life-saving treatments that many patients have had to put up with for years.”

The review will look at every aspect of the introduction of new medicines, from national advice to local decision-making, to establish whether any further improvements can be made, the Scottish Government said.

Currently, if a medicine is

accepted for use by the SMC then individual health boards set the criteria for prescribing it. If the medicine is not accepted then health boards do not make it routinely available.

Mr Neil said: “Some clinicians, charities and patients have raised concerns about access to medicines, so it is only right we look at ways we could potentially improve access arrangements.”

In recent years the SMC has been criticised for refusing to give the green light to pioneering drugs, many of them offered as new ways to treat cancers.

Cancer charities hope the review could lead to new drugs being offered to patients within a relatively short time.

Audrey Birt, director for Scotland at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Patients needed to be assured the process for assessing new medicines for potential use is robust and equitable. We hope any improvements will be implemented quickly.”

Professor Philip Routledge, professor of clinical pharmacology in Cardiff University, will review the SMC’s assessment processes while chief pharmaceutical officer, Professor Bill Scott, will look at how the SMC’s decisions are used by health boards.