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GPC demands fund for NICE drugs

The GPC is demanding the Government provides ring-fenced funding to meet the soaring NHS bill for drugs approved by national guidance.

New guidance from the Department of Health urges PCTs to take account of the implications of National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance, national service frameworks and nurse prescribing costs when setting practice budgets for 2003/4.

But GP leaders doubted whether next year's drug budgets would be realistic as debt-ridden PCTs cut back on prescribing to balance their books.

Dr Peter Fellows, chair of the GPC prescribing sub-committee, said: 'Drug budgets are not likely to be any more realistic than last year. The way PCTs are spending money is causing us alarm. They are all looking for prescribing cutbacks.'

Dr Fellows, a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, added: 'We're pushing the department for central funding for prescribing. We are seriously under-spending on drugs in the UK compared with our European counterparts.'

The new guidance warns PCTs: 'It is important to earmark realistic amounts to underpin primary care prescribing. NSFs are clearly leading to additional expenditure as more patients are treated. National expenditure on statins continues to increase by around 30 per cent year on year.'

Trusts are also reminded of their statutory obligation to fund NICE-approved drugs.

Dr Rob Barnett, a GPC member and Liverpool LMC secretary, said the quality and outcomes framework of the new contract would drive up the drugs bill.

'Everyone has been banging home the message that prescribing costs are likely to increase as more GPs follow central guidelines,' he said.

Dr Pravin Shah, a GP at a three-partner practice in Stoke- on-Trent, said the situation looked 'bleak'.

Dr Shah, who last year had a prescribing overspend of £30,000, said his PCT had promised not to take action if overspends were the result of following NICE guidance.

He added: 'As long as you follow NICE guidelines, don't give statins left, right and

centre and audit your prescribing, if you are overspent they say it will not be a problem. But I haven't got a clue how they will balance their books.'

Professor James Raftery, professor of health economics at the University of Birmingham, who has analysed the cost of implementing NICE recommendations, said the net cost since guidelines were first produced in 1999 was around £400 million.

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