15th May 2009
By David Williams
An influential committee of MPs has backed a controversial report recommending that patients be able to ‘top up’ NHS treatment with private care, despite fears it will result in a two-tier system.
In a May 12 report, the Commons’ health select committee endorsed recommendations by Professor Mike Richards, who last November said patients should not forfeit their free care by privately buying drugs not available on the NHS.
The MPs admitted, however, that they had reached their conclusions reluctantly. Committee chair Kevin Barron said he was ‘uncomfortable’ with the report’s implications. Labour committee member Jim Dowd said: ‘We couldn’t find a system free of anomaly.’
Independent MP Dr Richard Taylor said it was a ‘least worst’ option, and pointed out: ‘It’s a complete and utter fudge not to recognise that this creates a two-tier system.’
Fellow committee member Peter Bone voted against the report because it recommended that patients paying for extra drugs should be moved to a private treatment area unless their lives were endangered to avoid disparity of care within NHS wards.
Bone said that was ‘bureaucratic’, and argued that all patients should be treated in the best place for their clinical needs. He said: ‘In the future you have to accept that the NHS can’t fund everything.
‘Having a discussion about core services is a great idea. I can’t see why you accept top-up for drugs but not for hip operations. There’s no logic to it.’
The committee recommended that the Department of Health monitor its implementation of the Richards Review, and advised the NHS and private sector to share more information.
The MPs also said the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should continue to speed up its process of approving drugs, and that primary care trusts should clearly explain their decisions on exceptional funding for drugs not approved by Nice.
A DoH spokesman welcomed the report and promised the department would consider it before issuing a formal response.
He said the measures introduced after the Richards report ‘would substantially widen access to drugs on the NHS, reducing the numbers of patients wanting to fund drugs privately’. He added that there would be ‘greater clarity and fairness’ in access to drugs.