Thyroid Patients: Liothyronine - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 6th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 3:18 pm, 6th July 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to prevent Clinical Commissioning Groups denying thyroid patients access to the drug liothyronine (T3) for the treatment of hypothyroidism.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, I am still here. While levothyroxine is the first-line treatment for hypothyroidism, guidance published by NHS England is already clear that prescribing liothyronine is clinically appropriate for individual patients who may not respond to levothyroxine alone. NHS England is currently reviewing its guidance. As part of the engagement exercise, patient groups and other key stakeholders have been contacted to provide feedback and will be involved in this refresh.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I am relieved that the noble Lord is still here to answer this Question. I am grateful for what he said, but he will know that, for a certain group of patients, T3 is highly effective and much more effective than the normal medication that is given. There was a huge price hike a few years ago, and as a result the NHS restricted access; the price has come down, but, unfortunately, access is still restricted. In some parts of the country, patients cannot get prescribed it. Will the noble Lord, rather than relying on advisers, intervene and tell the NHS to stop this postcode lottery?

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

NHS England is currently consulting on this revision, for much the same reasons that the noble Lord acknowledges. At the moment, liothyronine is a second-line treatment when the other one cannot be used or is not appropriate. At a local level, doctors should be advised that they are able to prescribe it. Clearly, that is not getting through. When we went to NHS England with this, it recognised this and said that there will be a consultation.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a thyroid patient and as patron of several thyroid charities. As my noble friend the Minister is aware, there are many patients suffering a misinterpretation of “routinely” in the advice that

T3 should not be routinely prescribed”.

“Routinely” could mean either “regularly” or “without thought”. Can my noble friend make it clear that the meaning of “routinely” in this case is “without thought”, rather than “regularly”, as all thyroid medication must be prescribed regularly? If the Minister could make this clear from the Dispatch Box, I believe that the suffering of a lot of patients—notably, Christine Potts, who has written to me and to the Minister—could then be reduced.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I thank my noble friend for sending me the question in advance, since it was quite complicated—I sent it to the advisers, and when it came back, I had to ask for further explanation. So here is the advice that I have been given, and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me. The term “routinely” can be defined as “regularly”, as part of the usual way of doing things, rather than for any clinically accepted reason. It is actually regularly because patients should not be given liothyronine as the first-line treatment; the exception to that is when patients have tried the first-line treatment but still have symptoms. In that case, liothyronine is tried. I am assured that, although this may be confusing, the language is known to commissioners, whom the guidance is aimed at. However, they appreciate that others outside the commissioning process may not understand it as clearly.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, what assessment has been made of the T3 Prescribing Survey Report, which was published on 13 May, and of the reported failure by clinical commissioning groups to follow NHS England’s national guidance, Prescribing of Liothyronine, published in 2019, which shows that 58% of CCGs are still not complying with the national guidelines? Can the Minister intervene? This seems to be a ridiculous situation.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I have had prior notice from other noble Lords about this issue and have organised meetings with my officials in the past on this—I am always happy to do so. Given the concerns about the lack of commissioning for people who have tried the first-line treatment and now want the second-line treatment, NHS England intends to revise its guidelines. It is sorry about the process, but it must consult before it can change those guidelines.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, is this not a case of discrimination against those patients who need the drug?

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The current advice is for them to try the first-line treatment and only if that does not work should they go for the second-line treatment which noble Lords are asking for. In some cases, there may be patients in the other direction, who could go on to the first-line treatment. NHS England clearly understands the problem and the concerns that many noble Lords have raised, and it is consulting on the guidelines.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, this question does not relate to thyroid drugs, but perhaps the Minister can answer it. If not, I would be obliged if he wrote to me. It relates to HRT drugs. My noble friend will be aware of the ongoing issue relating to supply of HRT medication, both oestrogen gel and patches. The now-departed Secretary of State for Health was due to appoint a menopause tsar. Can my noble friend update the House on the current situation regarding supply of HRT and the appointment of a tsar?

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am afraid that I am not able to fully answer my noble friend’s question. However, I know that my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Health did organise a round table with some of the relevant charities to discuss this and to discuss where they can source elsewhere, outside of the UK, and whether they could build up UK capacity. My honourable friend Maria Caulfield, the Minister, has also met with a number of organisations on this, and they are determined to get as much as they can. One issue is the stock for the future as opposed to for now, and feeding that through, but I know that the department is on to this.

Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the evidence clearly shows that many patients with hypothyroidism would benefit hugely from the declassification of T3 as a high-cost drug back to being a drug that is routinely prescribed in primary care. Can the Minister explain exactly what the Government will do to ensure that the actual NICE guidelines that enable T3 to be prescribed by clinicians according to their judgment reflect this position, are implemented consistently across new NHS structures and stop the current postcode lottery? Would this not be better than repeating the record of the majority of CCGs who ignore the guidelines?

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Baroness raises a really important point about some of the blockages to patients getting T3. It is both the first and second-line advice from NHS England but also the NICE advice too. NICE always reminds us that it is independent, and that Ministers should not intervene, but we can call for meetings. NICE also recognises that a price change does change the equation. It has told me that it is open to new evidence with people able to consult and contact it about this.