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Caithness News Bulletins November 2003

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Move To End 'Postcode Prescribing' 24 November 03

A strengthened role for the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) will ensure that 'unique drugs' will be made available simultaneously across Scotland.

The new arrangements for the provision of drugs like Imatinib or Glivec used in the treatment of leukaemia will mean they can quickly pass into mainstream use once approved by the SMC.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said: "Patients deserve equal access wherever they live in Scotland to new drugs which are the only effective treatment for a particular condition. "It is entirely unacceptable that patients are denied the benefit of such a drug simply because there is no provision for it in their local Health Board budget.  "The new role for the SMC will incorporate better planning to flag up new treatments well in advance to ensure that Boards can make proper financial provision before they receive SMC approval.

"That will mean consistency and an end to what has been described as a lottery by postcode for such products."

The SMC comprises representatives of drug and therapeutic committees from all 15 Health Boards and was set up in 2002 to provide a single authoritative source of advice on the effectiveness of new drugs.

In its new strengthened role from Spring 2004 there will be:
an agreed national programme for "unique" drugs with a requirement for every health board to make it available at the same time across Scotland a new mechanism to give the SMC up to 12 months' notice of innovative drugs which are in the pipeline greater representation on the SMC of Board Chief Executives and Directors of Finance to ensure national implementation of all decisionsEach board will continue to have discretion over SMC-approved drugs for which there are already effective alternative treatments.

Mr Chisholm said:  "Public concern has rightly been over novel treatments for which there are no alternatives available. There will be an obligation on boards to make such drugs available once approved by the SMC.  "The SMC has the expertise to assess clinical effectiveness of drugs. It will decide what are novel treatments and what are merely alternative products to existing drugs. 
"Our key priority is to meet clinical need. That is established by clinicians in consultation with patients.

"I believe this approach achieves the right balance which is in the best interests of patients across Scotland."

The SMC currently considers around 80 new drugs a year.

It will now classify them into:
(a) unique drugs for specific conditions which, if approved by the SMC, will be introduced uniformly across Scotland. Normally this will be within three months. In certain circumstances, for example, where the SMC makes a requirement for audit, this timescale may be extended. All NHS Boards will be required to follow the national implementation plan for these drugs.

(b) drugs for conditions where alternative drugs with the same clinical properties already exist. Implementation of such drugs approved by the SMC will be for Boards to decide according to local needs.

The system for advance warning of unique novel treatments will involve closer working with ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) Scotland. Boards will review such drugs for which the SMC has already given approval and ensure that these available uniformly across the country.

Boards currently spend 846 million a year on drugs. The vast majority of this is on existing treatments.