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Professor Steve Field to lead review of NHS Constitution and legal right to medicines

Exclusive: The NHS Constitution and its role in defining patients' rights to medicines are to be reviewed by the NHS Future Forum, amid warnings from some GP commissioners that they are being denied flexibility to make local funding decisions.

Pulse has learned that the Future Forum's third report to ministers will consider how the NHS Constitution – which guarantees access to all NICE-approved therapies - is understood and being used by patients.

The move comes after the Department of Health drew up a ‘compliance regime', to ensure commissioners add drugs to formularies within 90 days of NICE approval.

Professor Steve Field, chair of the Future Forum, said it was planning to look at the NHS Constitution from later this month, although any consideration of the role of NICE might not be until the summer.

‘We are going to look at the NHS Constitution. We haven't got a launch date, although it is likely to be in the next couple of weeks. One of the questions eventually will be: "Is the constitution any good? Does it need to change?"'

‘One right is for patients to have NICE-approved treatments, but we won't be looking in detail at that in the first phase until July. It is really about are people using the constitution; do they know about it?'

The NHS Constitution has proved costly for PCTs, with a Pulse investigation last year revealing companies had been paid tens of millions of pounds to care for patients who launched challenges after not receiving treatment within 18 weeks of GP referral.

Dr Charles Alessi chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said he was supportive of the NHS Constitution and NICE's role, but would be pressing ministers to ensure clinical commissioning groups had flexibility to address local priorities: ‘There needs to be some flexibility. Some processes are mandatory, but everything can't be mandatory otherwise what are CCGs for? There is going to be a lot of debate about where to draw that line.'

The NAPC will be part of the NICE Implementation Collaborative, established by the Department of Health to support implementation of NICE guidance.