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Untenable private top-up rules must be changed, says thinktank

4 November 2008

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Rules over “top-up” payments for additional private drugs must be changed as they are currently “untenable”, and clarity must be ensured over any new rules, the chief executive of healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund has said.

Today (4 November 2008) the government is expected to announce conclusions of a review of the use of additional private drugs for NHS care.

Speaking ahead of this expected announcement, Niall Dickson, King’s Fund Chief Executive, said: “The current situation is simply untenable. Policy should be changed so that, in certain circumstances, patients will not lose their right to access the rest of their care on the NHS if they pay privately for drugs that have been rejected on cost-effective grounds.

“There are areas of the NHS where there is already inconsistency over patient charging, such as eye and dental care, and current rules don’t make it clear to patients why these top-ups are allowed but others, such as the use of non-NICE approved drugs, are not.

“Variation between local NHS decisions as to whether to allow patients to have non-NICE approved drugs is unclear and confusing and leads to patients feeling like victims of a lottery.

“It must be clear to patients, clinicians and managers the circumstances in which top-ups are allowed so everyone understands the rules, and patients should have access to information about the costs, benefits and limitations of any drug they are thinking of purchasing.

“Patients who decide to pay for an additional drug should also pay for any extra costs to the NHS of administering that drug.”

Mr Dickson added: “We will have to wait to see the details of the government’s announcement, but it’s important that people realise it won’t solve all the problems to do with patients wanting the NHS to provide them with drugs, treatments or devices that are considered too expensive to be freely available.

“And even if the government does decide to allow top-ups, inevitably some patients will be able to afford to pay and some will not.

“But what we can say is that this review has already been helpful in highlighting the need to look at the value that we put on drugs and care at the end of life and how we assess the cost effectiveness of treatments for very rare diseases.”

King’s Fund

Related story: NHS review recommends allowing private treatment top-ups