Johnson confirms NHS ‘top-ups’

Patients will be allowed to top up their NHS treatment with drugs not available on the service, health secretary Alan Johnson told the Commons this afternoon.

Professor Mike Richards’ review has been welcomed by those campaigning on behalf of terminally ill patients, many of whom have been frustrated by the NHS’ refusal to allow treatment with drugs it does not supply.

At present the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) decides which drugs are cost-effective and therefore available on the NHS.

Many patients want to receive treatments denied by Nice by paying for them themselves.

A high-profile case drew attention to the issue earlier this year. Linda O’Boyle, 64, died of bowel cancer having sought the right to top-up her NHS treatment with the drug cetuximab.

Now Nice will be given greater flexibility to consider what Mr Johnson called “the premium that society places on helping those with terminal illness”.

And, as expected, he has backed the need to improve access to certain drugs on the NHS.

“A small number of patients may still choose to pay for additional drugs not available on the NHS. But I have agreed that, from today, NHS care must never be withdrawn in these cases – as long as private treatment takes place in a private facility.”

Mr Johnson has announced a wider package of measures designed to widen access to drugs on the NHS.

“Better local decision-making, a faster appraisal process, fairer pricing and greater flexibility in the evaluation of certain treatments will address the main issues that have fuelled the demand from some patients for additional private treatment,” he added.