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Health Minister commits to increasing access to specialist drugs

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Health Minister Simon Hamilton has today published an analysis of responses to the consultation on the evaluation of the Individual Funding Request (IFR) process.

IFR provides access to unapproved specialist drugs where there is an agreed clinical need but where they are not routinely commissioned. He said: “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their views on this important issue. I have heard the concerns raised particularly by patients, survivors and charities about access to specialist drugs. I fully understand how important this issue is.”

The five main recommendations of the evaluation were:

  1. That the existing exceptionality criteria should be amended to remove the reference to 95%.
  2. That the establishment of regional scrutiny committees should be considered to ensure all IFR applications are subject to regionally consistent clinical input and peer review.
  3. That the existing IFR guidance should be revised to include greater transparency.
  4. That the Department should establish a Specialist Medicines Fund to meet the costs of administering and maintaining increased access to specialist drugs.
  5. In order to resource the new fund, the HSC should re-introduce charging for prescriptions.

The responses to recommendations one to three were almost universally supportive with respondents welcoming the increased access, transparency, consistency and clinical input they would bring. However, on the creation of a specialist drugs fund and the re-introduction of prescription charges, responses to the consultation were more mixed, with some stakeholders expressing reservations about the scope and practicality of a ring-fenced fund, and a number of respondents making clear their opposition to the re-introduction of prescription charges to finance such a fund.

The Minister said: “Patients should have access to the drugs they need and I share some respondents concerns that the creation of a specialist drugs fund is not necessarily the best means to achieve this. It is also clear from the responses to the consultation that there is not clear cut support for the re-introduction of prescription charges to finance such a fund. I have already made clear that I do not support the re-introduction of prescription charges at this time. I have decided that these changes will be funded from within the Health and Social Care budget.”

Minister Hamilton concluded: “The responses showed overwhelming support for the first three recommendations to reform the process and I plan to start work on these immediately. I have instructed my officials to set up a task and finish group to progress each of these recommendations and report back to me in the New Year.”

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