More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Health quango to be scrapped for failing to end ‘postcode prescribing’

28 October 2001

A HEALTH quango set up to test new drugs for use in Scotland is being scrapped because it has failed patients.

Ministers have ordered the closure of the Health Technology Board for Scotland (HTBS) after it wasted £2m rubber-stamping decisions already taken in England.

The HTBS was set up to end the problem of ‘postcode prescribing’ whereby patients in some parts of Scotland are given the latest treatments on the NHS while others are denied them because health boards decide they are too expensive.

However, thousands of patients still face long delays in receiving treatment because the HTBS only managed to reach two decisions in its first year, and both of them were simply to agree with verdicts already decided in England.

Now Scotland’s chief medical officer, Mac Armstrong, is to scrap the quango. A new body, the NHS Scotland Clinical Governance Board, will be set up in its place, taking on the roles of several other, overlapping bodies. It will issue guidance on new technologies and ensure they are introduced across Scotland.

But health experts fear the new ‘super quango’ will be as ineffectual as its predecessors unless health boards are made to implement its decisions.

Yesterday shadow health minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "This is highly embarrassing for Susan Deacon. Less than two years ago she set up the HTBS in a blaze of glory, only now to admit she has got it wrong and has to start from scratch.

"The important thing now is that she gets it right and that any new organisation has the power and the resources to improve standards and finally eradicate postcode treatment."

Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Fiona Grounsell continues to be denied the only drug which can help her condition, even though the HTBS was first asked to assess the medicine 18 months ago.

While the 39-year-old single mother from Glasgow was told she would be an ideal candidate for beta interferon, she is not being given it because her local health board believes it is too expensive. Meanwhile, patients in other parts of Scotland are given it because their local health boards have approved its use. "The HTBS’s performance has been poor, verging on the insulting - it has been a huge waste of money," said Grounsell.

The former marketing executive, who had to give up her job last year as a result of the debilitating condition, admits that for her time is running out because the drug is only effective during the early stages of the disease.

"Up until last year I was able to work and live a relatively normal life but now I have to walk with a stick and rarely go out of my home," she said.

"I’m now receiving disability benefit, a home help and will soon need physiotherapy. Surely the cost to society is higher than the cost of the treatment itself."