Northern Ireland Patients Allowed To Pay For Additional Drugs

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Patients in Northern Ireland are to have the same rights as those in England and Wales to pay privately for drugs not currently approved for use in the health service.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said today that patients here will be allowed to pay for additional drugs without losing their entitlement to free health service care.

In response to the recent report on 'top up' payments by Professor Mike Richards, the UK's National Clinical Director for Cancer, the Minister said: “I have given careful consideration to Professor Mike Richards’ report which makes recommendations to improve access to medicines for health service patients.

"The report is thorough and a valuable contribution to the controversial debate about patients’ ability to pay for additional private treatments without jeopardising their right of access to free health service care.

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“I have decided that, very ill patients here should, as in England and Wales, be able to benefit from the option of paying for additional drug treatments alongside their health service care. The patients who are most likely to be affected by this issue will be those facing a terminal illness.

“However, I also believe that we should keep a clear distinction between what can be considered private and public health care. In this way we can aim to strike a better balance in the tension between our desire to provide very ill patients, near the end of life, with greater choice about their care and our concern that the core values of the health service should be upheld.

“Ideally I would wish to see greater access to potentially life-extending drugs within the health-service however the availability of resources remains a key issue.

“I welcome the publication by NICE earlier this month of new advice to those assessing drug therapies for use in the NHS. It is my expectation that in time, the health service will be able to provide terminally-ill patients with more choice about their treatment.

The announcement was made in the context of the publication of a report by the National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards and the launch of a package of measures by the Department of Health in England which aims to improve access to medicines for health service patients both by speeding up the approvals process for high cost drugs and by safeguarding patients’ right to free care.

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