New rules will allow NHS England to delay the rollout of expensive treatments even after approval by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Any drug likely to cost the NHS over £20 million per year will be subject to the slower rollout. This would allow more time for NHS England and the pharmaceutical companies to discuss the possibility of lowering the cost of the drug.
In the current system, the NHS has 90 days to make treatments available to patients after NICE approval.
The move has been met with criticism from some charities, who have expressed fears that patients may face delays accessing potentially life-saving treatments.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s Executive Director of Policy, called the plans ‘unacceptable’, adding: ‘If NICE thinks a cancer treatment is clinically effective and represents value for money, then patients should receive it without delay.
‘Cancer patients may lose their lives while they wait. We need to decide whether we want a world-class health system in the UK, and if so we need to pay for it.’
Mike Thompson, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, accused NICE and NHS England of breaking a 2015 manifesto pledge from the Conservative party, adding: ‘Thousands of patients will wait longer for treatment for conditions like heart disease, cancers and diabetes while medicines which stand to benefit the most people are caught up in the system.
‘Use of new medicines in the UK is already poor, with patients seven times more likely to get a newly launched medicine in places like Germany or France.’
Sir Andrew Dillon, Chief Executive of NICE, said: ‘We hope, and we think it is perfectly possible, that for some treatments which exceed the £20 million budget impact in their first 3 years, there will be commercial agreements between companies and NHS England which will at least minimize and, in some cases, avoid completely the need for any delay for access for patients.
‘Even where there is a delay beyond the standard 90 days, NHS England has committed to ensuring that there is some funding available to provide access throughout the phased implementation period.’
The move comes as NHS England is to introduce a £20 million per year cap on the cost of new drugs from April 2017.