NHS patients are waiting more than five years to receive new medicines because the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is missing its approval deadlines, according to a new study.
Most drugs that prove successful in clinical trials are awarded a European license and marketed for private use in the UK. This means that patients can access them by paying out-of-pocket, or by claiming on their health insurance policy. NICE then has to approve the drug before it is made available on the NHS.
But a study by the Office for Health Economics found that it takes five years on average for a drug to be approved by NICE from when a manufacturer obtains a license.
The researchers looked at all drugs approved by NICE since 2000, nearly 300 treatments for conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart problems.
NICE’s approval process divides drugs into two categories- those to be used on their own go through Single Technology Appraisal (STA), and treatments to be taken alongside other drugs undergo Multiple Technology Appraisal (MTA).
According to the report, NICE missed its 301-day approval target for individual medicines in 77% of cases in the past decade. NICE also breached a 420-day target for multiple drugs in 81% of its appraisals. Appeals and legal challenges outside of NICE's control added to the delays.
The study, obtained by GP Magazine, highlighted that the figures need to be ‘interpreted with care’, because some of the drugs analysed were launched before NICE was established. But they found no evidence the NICE’s process had sped up over time.
A NICE spokesman said: “We don’t recognise most of the conclusions reached by the Office for Health Economics report.” She said the time from licensing to first draft guidance had 'decreased dramatically' and was now four months.
If a cancer drug is licensed by the European Medicines Agency and is clinically appropriate for the patient, health insurers will often fund it regardless of cost. If you want to be covered for licensed drugs and treatments then look for a private medical insurance policy with full cancer cover.
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