May 6, 2003
By Deborah Anderson
PATIENTS could be denied expensive new medicines because of where they
live, it was claimed today.
Health boards are preparing to go against Scottish Executive guidelines on testing new medicines that could lead to patients in some areas not receiving the drugs because their local health board won't allow them - so-called 'postcode prescribing'.
A number of health authorities in Scotland, including NHS Greater Glasgow, have set up vetting committees to decide which drugs are affordable and what priority they should be given.
This is despite advice from Malcolm Chisholm, Scottish Health Minister before last week's elections, that all nationally-approved drugs should be "followed up proactively."
Nine health boards, including Greater Glasgow, Forth Valley, Argyll and Clyde, Lanarkshire, and Ayrshire and Arran, have set up teams to review medicines already recommended by the Scottish Medicines Consortium or the Health Technology Board for Scotland.
However, Glasgow health bosses have denied claims patients would be refused new drugs or treatments because they were too expensive.
A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow said its drug vetting committee, which has been in place for around 15 years, was intended to monitor the effectiveness of drugs and treatments at a local level.
He said: "We are not trying to deny patients drugs because they are too expensive, but are attempting to identify the best quality drugs and treatment, including policies on things such as mental health and addiction treatment."
Under the review system, the recommended drugs go before committees of executives, clinicians, and lay representatives to consider how they will fit in locally. They may introduced immediately or given a lower priority.
However, some charities fear the move will lead to 'postcode prescribing', and leave patients who have chronic diseases for long periods without the drugs that could ease their suffering.
Mark Hazelwood, Scottish director of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the health boards' move would be inconsistent.
He said: "The setting up of a national body to try to have a consistent view on the introduction of new drugs was a step in the right direction.
"If that unravels at a local level then we are not moving towards a
consistent standard of care."
Drugs currently being tested for national approval include memantine for Alzheimer's Disease, cannabinoids for multiple sclerosis, anakinra for rheumatoid arthritis, and amantadine for influenza.
Copyright © 2003 SMG Newspapers Ltd