Postcode lottery for drugs

MOTHERWELL and Wishaw MSP John Pentland claims the Scottish Government is creating a postcode lottery for cancer and other new drugs.

He believes the answers to a series of parliamentary questions reveal the Scottish Government has disengaged from the process by which interim funding for new drugs is decided.

This leaves health boards to develop and apply their own individual policies on whether to fund new drugs that have not gone through the lengthy process of assessment for NHS funding.

Mr Pentland said: “From a patient’s perspective, waiting precious weeks or months for treatment can be a death sentence. If you have a debilitating and potentially terminal illness, you want access to the lifeline of new drugs when they become available, not months or even years later when their efficiency and value for money has been fully assessed.

“That’s why we need a decent and compassionate system that allows access to new drugs while they are being assessed.

“That is what the system of individual patient treatment requests (IPTRs) was meant to address, but my questions about it show that the Scottish Government is happy to sit back and allow allocation of funds for treatment to become a postcode lottery.”

If health boards are left to their own devices then Mr Pentland would at least like to see the Scottish Government monitor the decisions being made.

He said: “The Scottish Government is not undertaking any monitoring or comparison of health board policies.

“There is no standardisation of how patients requests are dealt with or training of panel members who make the decisions.

“There are supposed to be annual meetings between boards, there hasn’t been one yet and no date is set. It is claimed that there has been some contact between staff in different health boards, but no details have been given.”

Mr Pentland also drew attention to the consequences of a funding refusal for patients.

He said: “For those who don’t get help, the burden of purchasing drugs can be enormous.

“Many people struggle to pay five or even six figure sums for treatment, using up savings and selling their homes while many simply cannot afford treatment. To add insult to injury, while self-administered drugs are zero-rated for VAT, if patients need help administering their expensive drugs, they have to pay VAT on them.

“In the words of one of my constituents: ‘you expect to pay VAT on luxury items, but why am I having to pay VAT on something that keeps me alive?’”

Health minister Nicola Sturgeon told Mr Pentland that the Scottish Government has drawn up guidelines which it expects health boards to follow.

She said: “The Scottish Government issued guidance to boards in March 2010 which set out the policy framework with regard to the introduction of newly licensed medicines and boards were asked to develop policies in accordance with the framework.

“This clarified that NHS boards were expected to have a written policy for individual patient treatment requests in place and operational by last April.

“All NHS boards confirmed they had established a written policy.

“Further guidance published in February of this year asked NHS boards to confirm that their policies on formularies and management of IPTRs had been updated to reflect the additional guidance.

“All NHS boards have provided this confirmation and individual NHS board policies on their IPTR arrangements are available from their website.

“Development of local NHS board policies is a matter for individual NHS boards.”