Duty to have regard to the life sciences sector and access to new medicines and treatments

Part of Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:29 pm, 15th March 2017

My hon. Friend is right to point out that NICE is considering today in its board meeting thresholds for the introduction of new medicines. What I would not do, however, is share his concern that it will necessarily lead to delay in their take-up. In essence, it will provide NHS England with greater commercial flexibility to negotiate with drugs companies that propose to introduce a drug that may cost more than £20 million in a full year. It will give NHS England more time to negotiate a lower price with the pharma company. That should not, in and of itself, lead to either delay or less take-up.

I am aware of the concerns, expressed by my hon. Friend, other Members and some charities in a national newspaper today, about the joint NICE and NHS England consultation on the proposed changes to the appraisal and adoption of new technologies. There have been suggestions by Opposition Members that this is rationing of NICE-approved medicines. I assure the House that that is not the case. Patients will continue to have the right to NICE-recommended drugs, as enshrined in the NHS constitution. The proposals are intended to ensure that patients benefit from even faster access to the most cost-effective treatments, while addressing issues of affordability as well as effectiveness.

Let me be very clear: Lords amendment 3 would not impact on the proposals; the NHS will continue to fund a product approved by NICE, in line with NICE recommendations. I also remind Members that NICE and NHS England are making the changes to address concerns about the affordability of high-cost new drugs and other technologies that were raised by the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by Meg Hillier.

I have read the suggestion by the Opposition that the NICE and NHS England proposals would be contrary to our intent to increase the uptake of new medicines. As I said to my hon. Friend Dr Murrison, that is false. In reality, last year saw spend on medicines grow more quickly than in any of the past 10 years, as we seek to secure rapid access to new medicines for patients.

Access to medicines is primarily dependent on clinicians’ choices about what is best for their patients. Clinicians need to be aware of new medicines and persuaded that they may be a better option for their individual patients, taking into account other conditions each patient may have and other medicines they are taking. We need to change the culture and behaviour of those clinicians who may be reluctant to use innovative medicines, and legislation is not the right way to effect behaviour change in the NHS.

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