NICE chief calls for end to drug postcode lottery

In collaboration with the Press Association

The chief executive of the government's drug approval body has called for an end to Britain's 'postcode lottery'.

A number of cases have recently received widespread media coverage, in which patients in some areas of the UK have received drugs on the NHS while patients in other areas have been denied the very same drugs.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), told BBC's Panorama programme that it should not make any difference where a person lives.

He argued that primary care trusts (PCTs) should be consistent when deciding whether to pay for medicines.

"There ought to be a common basis for making decisions about exceptional circumstances and I think anybody who uses the NHS for their care is entitled to expect that," Mr Dillon told the programme.

"What patients need to do is to find out from those who are making the decision what the basis of that decision is, and if they don't think it's reasonable, if they don't think it compares appropriately with decisions that are taken elsewhere, ask 'why not?'"

Mark Saunders, a cancer consultant from Manchester, launched an investigation after 34-year-old cancer patient Naomi Kiely was denied potentially life-saving drugs by her local PCT.

He claimed that there are inconsistencies in the provision of NHS drugs, giving Manchester and Cheshire as a prime example.

"If you have a patient from Cheshire they have a very good record. Most of the time we apply to Cheshire they tend to fund patients that have exceptional circumstances. If we apply to the Manchester Primary Care Trust then in the eight applications we've made they've only accepted one for funding in 2006," Mr Saunders revealed.

Meanwhile, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of NICE, has claimed that the body's ability to approve drugs is being complicated by high drug prices.

He told the Observer that pharmaceutical companies have been driving up the cost of new medicines in a bid to boost profits and that the industry is subject to "perverse incentives" to increase prices.