Treatments can vary around the country
Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
The Conservatives have promised to end the "postcode lottery" in health care by setting up a centrally funded national medicines budget.
Too many decisions about drugs are being taken by individual health authorities, according to the party.
As a result some treatments, such as beta interferon for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, are available to sufferers in some parts of the country but not to those in others.
The Tories said they would establish a new system called the Exceptional Medicines Fund (EMF).
Under the EMF health authorities would no longer need to provide the money to fund exceptional treatments.
Instead they would be financed directly from the central health budget, the size of which would be annually determined by the secretary of state for health secretary.
An EMF committee, made up of senior clinicians and academics, would be responsible for deciding how the fund would be spent.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) would assess the cost-effectiveness and clinical effectiveness of exceptional medicines, and inform the committee of its findings.
The EMF committee would then decide the clinical criteria which must be met before doctors can prescribe these drugs.
Shadow health spokesman Dr Liam Fox said: "Postcode rationing is a scandal. We must end it.
"It is unacceptable that patients with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease receive different treatments if they live on different sides of the road."
Dr Fox admitted that with limited resources for the NHS, priorities had to be set.
But he said: "These must be on the basis of clinical need, not political convenience.
"It is surely right that we allow those with medical expertise, not unqualified bureaucrats or politicians, to take such decisions."
He said the EMF would ensure that decisions about patient care were taken by clinicians, and was the first major step towards taking politicians completely out of the day-to-day running of the NHS.
Health Minister John Denham said the proposals would mean money being taken out of the hands of healthcare workers and being put in a "centralised bureaucratic pot controlled by politicians".
Local health authorities would have to face budget cuts of around £9m each in order to fund the EMF.
"The Conservatives propose to cut up to £900m from budgets controlled by family doctors to create a centralised bureaucratic pot controlled by politicians.
"This would result
in a cut of around £9 million for every local health authority area,
depriving hospitals and community health services of the resources they