Under pressure


Previous blogs have highlighted concern over “immoral, incoherent and quite possibly illegal" NHS rules denying patients care if they choose to top-up their treatment privately.  Now, the health think-tank, the King’s Fund, has said that the NHS should no longer be able to discriminate in such a way.

Currently, patients may lose the right to free NHS care if they pay privately for drugs rejected by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as not cost-effective.  This seems highly inconsistent when people are able to top-up dental and optical treatment, as well as additional non-clinical treatment such as private rooms, but are denied this option when it comes to the prolonging their life.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the King’s Fund, said that: "The current practice on top-ups, which prohibits people from privately purchasing drugs not available on the health service while continuing a course of NHS care, is untenable."

Some of the drugs concerned are not available on the NHS as they are only effective for some patients.  The King’s Fund said that if the treatment is effective for the patient, then after a certain time period, particularly if the patient is financially unable to continue using the drug, the NHS should bare the cost.

Up until recently, ministers have said that top-up treatment would cause a two-tier health system, however, after recent high-profile cases of cancer patients being denied life prolonging drugs, they have agreed to reconsider the issue.  Professor Sir Mike Richards, cancer expert, is currently preparing a report for ministers reviewing top-up policy that is likely to be ready in the next month.