GPs face chaos as NICE's role shifts

Plans to transfer drug funding decisions to GPs and scale back NICE's role could widen postcode prescribing and cause huge problems for some practices, GPs have warned.

A decision to scale back NICE's role in drug funding could cause huge problems for some practices (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)
A decision to scale back NICE's role in drug funding could cause huge problems for some practices (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)

Last week, the DoH said that the introduction of value-based pricing would mean GPs rather than NICE would decide whether drugs should be available on the NHS.

'NICE will continue to offer advice but we will ensure more decisions are taken at GP level,' science minister David Willetts said. 'The GP will be the patient's friend and agent.'

A DoH spokeswoman said: '(NICE's) role will increasingly focus on how to deliver authoritative advice to clinicians on the most effective treatments and on development of quality standards, not acting as an arbiter on the availability of drugs.'

She added: 'Until we are assured that the improvements in access to medicines we want to see are realised, we will continue to ensure that the NHS funds drugs that have been positively appraised by NICE.'

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the government 'risks misleading the public on this issue'.

'When it comes to high cost drugs, whether it be NICE or consortia making decisions, the reality is the money is simply not available for everyone to have everything they want,' he said.

Patient care will not be improved and the changes risk widening post-code prescribing, he added.

'It is also likely to be a recipe for chaos if this is implemented at the same as scrapping practice boundaries,' he said.

'The danger is that patients simply register elsewhere in the country just to get a particular drug and this will cause great problems to those practices who try to offer good quality care to remote patients.'

Dr Paul Charlson, chairman of the Conservative Medical Society, said that many GPs would welcome increased prescribing freedom.

But he said the changes were a 'double-edged sword'. 'It will free us up and enable us to use drugs,' he said. 'But we can no longer live in this bubble where we don't look at cost-effectiveness.'

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