An £80m new treatment fund to pay for high-cost drugs approved for use on the NHS in Wales has been launched.
According to Vaughan Gething, cabinet secretary for health, well-being and sport, who announced the launch of the fund on 10 January 2017, the fund will provide health boards with an additional £16m each year for five years and will be used to meet the cost of newly approved drugs for the first 12 months, after which boards are expected to pick up the bill.
A total of £12m is being made available to health boards immediately with the promise of another £4m to come later in 2017.
The Welsh government says it now expects health boards to introduce medicines approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) within two months from the date NICE gives its initial recommendation (when the Final Appraisal Determination is published) rather than waiting for the appeal process to finish and final guidance to be published, which can extend the process by another eight weeks.
Drugs approved by the All-Wales Medicines Strategy Group will now also be made available to patients within a maximum two months of published guidance, ministers expect.
In a statement to ministers, Gething said: “This significant investment will help remove uncertainties around funding for new treatments in the future and help the Welsh NHS prepare sustainable plans for the introduction of new medicines.”
“The new treatment fund has been designed to treat all conditions equally,” he added. “We recognise that each person affected by a condition that impacts upon their life will want to be assured that the Welsh government is just as interested in their situation by making sure all new, recommended medicines are introduced as quickly as possible and consistently no matter where an individual lives in Wales. This is not the approach in other parts of the UK.”
Gething added that he would be issuing new directions to health boards in January 2017 to ring fence the fund for the purpose of supporting the introduction of newly recommended medicines. “We will also be monitoring the take-up of new medicines and the reduction in timescales. I want to be clear that the fund is being used for its purpose and that it is making a real difference.”
Mair Davies, director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Wales, welcomes the fund, saying it means in future patients will have “timely, appropriate and consistent access to new medicines that are approved for use on the NHS”.
But she adds: “As with all medicines, however, it will be vital that patients receive ongoing support from pharmacists to help them get the most from their medicines and the investment in new medicines in Wales.”
RPS Wales also wants to see more opportunities created in Wales for pharmacists to make the most of their skills in monitoring medicines and recommending any necessary changes, she said.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which represents drug manufacturers, also welcomes the fund and the decision to speed up patients’ access to new approved drugs on the NHS. Rick Greville, its director with responsibility for Wales, says the announcement is “the type of progressive policy which can make a real impact on patients’ lives”.
“It demonstrates the ambition of the Welsh government to provide a quality health system across all disease areas, based on evidence and prudent principles.”
He adds that the £80m available to health boards over the next five years should enable them to be “early adopters of all medicines shown to be cost and clinically effective”.