This agreement shows the industry’s commitment to improving outcomes for patients in the UK. But the industry cannot fix longstanding problems on its own. Concerted action is now needed by government, the NHS and by bodies such as NICE so that patients across the whole of the UK get the best quality healthcare they deserve.
For too long, there has been an access problem in the UK. And yesterday’s headlines about patients in Scotland being able to receive a kidney cancer drug which is withheld from patients in England are a stark reminder that this agreement needs to address this problem. Stories such as this highlight the reality that patients across the country have had to face for far too long. As we wrote last week, with this new agreement and the Government’s commitments to improving access to medicines and patient outcomes, we have five years to fix the access problem.
The difficulties that patients across the UK face in not being able to be treated with the most modern medicines is a longstanding problem. The International Variations in Drug Usage report, led by Professor Sir Mike Richards, showed in 2010 that the UK lagged behind comparable countries in terms of medicines use. The report showed that for patients suffering from a range of conditions including: cancer, dementia, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, the UK had fallen behind many countries with similar economies and health systems.
With last week’s announcement patients should now expect the Government, the devolved administrations, the NHS and NICE to respond positively to the opportunity the agreement provides. This means harnessing and sustaining the spread of innovation throughout the NHS, increasing consistency around access and removing unfair discrepancies. Commitments in policy documents like the Mandate, Innovation Health and Wealth and the Strategy for UK Life Sciences are significant and important, but they need to be turned into change on the ground in the NHS and in how organisations such as NICE decide whether a medicine should be available to patients or not.
Only by ensuring this commitment to change and consistency is delivered across the whole NHS will patients get the best healthcare they deserve and headlines like the ones this week will become a thing of the past.