Local NHS organisations will have to tell patients how quickly they make NICE-approved drugs available under new government plans to get rid of variation in prescribing.
From the autumn, NHS bodies will have to publish an 'innovation scorecard' showing local compliance with NICE recommendations, as well as lists of what medicines are available in their area.
“The NHS will have no excuse not to provide the latest NICE-approved drugs and treatments,” the government said.
“Patients have a right to drugs and treatments that have been approved by NICE. This new regime will be a catalyst for change – we are determined to eradicate variation and drive up standards for everyone,” said health minister Paul Burstow.
“NHS organisations must make sure the latest NICE-approved treatments are available in their area, and if they are not, then they will now be responsible for explaining why not. Being transparent with data like this is the hallmark of a 21st century NHS. It is a fundamental tool to help healthcare professionals improve patient care.”
The government will also set up a new group to help local NHS organisations implement NICE guidelines, acknowledging that the Institute's rulings “can mean the NHS has to make big changes to the way they provide services”.
The new group will help spread best practice in order to make uptake by the NHS quicker for patients.
The moves follow both an acknowledgement by the head of the NHS Sir David Nicholson earlier this month that NICE drug blacklists exist, but cannot be allowed to continue, and a pledge in January from health secretary Andrew Lansley that all NICE-backed drugs will be available across the country.
The new plans, and the innovation scorecard in particular, were welcomed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).
Chief executive Stephen Whitehead said: “The NHS innovation scorecard will be a valuable tool for supporting the use of the latest NICE recommended medicines across England.
“There is still a great deal of variation across the country on which treatments patients are able to access and so I am hopeful the scorecard will help highlight discrepancies which can then be addressed.
But the new measures received a more cautious welcome from the NHS Confederation, which represents managers in the health services.
Its deputy chief executive David Stout acknowledged the necessity to keep up with technological advances and said “sharing information on these advances is extremely useful for creating new treatments and medicines”.
But he warned: “It is important that any new measures do not lead to unnecessary bureaucracy or a duplication of information with no real benefits for hospitals, GPs or patients.
"It is also important to remember that the NHS is facing an unprecedented financial challenge and organisations must live within their means while providing high quality care. The reality is we can only afford to provide new drugs or treatments where they are cost effective and demonstrably add real patient benefits.”
Stout's concerns have been echoed by others in the health service, but the government said “financial issues” should not prevent the uptake of innovative new treatments and noted “NHS organisations get funding for each new NICE appraisal”.
The government is still working with the NHS and stakeholders to develop the exact content and design of the innovation scorecard, more details on which will be available nearer to its autumn launch.