New measures announced to improve access to drugs for terminal illnesses

In collaboration with the Press Association

The UK Government has announced a range of proposals aimed at improving the care available to patients with life-threatening conditions.

A key part of the new proposals is a change to the way the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence decides which medicines are approved for diseases that only affect small numbers of people.

The proposals, outlined in a statement by Minister for Health Alan Johnson, comes in the wake of the release of a report into the supply of medicines to NHS patients conducted by Professor Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director.

All 14 of Professor Richards' proposals have been accepted by ministers, which should enable, following a consultation process, patients to pay for drugs not available on the NHS providing they also meet extra costs associated with their care.

However, Mr Johnson also stressed that any care paid for privately by an individual must be carried out in a private facility. The aim is to ensure that there are no longer instances where people are lying next to each other in hospitals receiving different treatments for the same conditions.

Having said this, Mr Johnson is hopeful that new guidelines unveiled by NICE will ensure fewer patients need finance their own treatment.

The institute has pledged to make more drugs available on the NHS by working with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce initial prices and hastening the appraisal process for new treatments.

NICE will also provide its Appraisal Committees with extra advice to ensure treatments for rare terminal illnesses can be accessed by patients.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK chief executive, said: "We very much welcome the broad package of measures announced by Alan Johnson. It strikes the right balance between significantly improving access to effective medicines for cancer patients and not giving a blank cheque to pharmaceutical companies.

"If all of the measures announced today are taken forward, tens of thousands of cancer patients will benefit.

"But these recommendations must now be pushed through as quickly as possible. Every day of delay will mean more lives lost to cancer and frustration for cancer patients and their families."

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