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NICE-approved drugs to be made available to GPs in 90 days

Exclusive: GPs are set to be handed a guarantee they can access NICE- approved treatments under a Government clampdown on postcode lotteries in drug formularies.

NICE has been charged with standardising the process for drawing up and updating drug formularies to ensure treatments recommended in legally binding technology appraisals are automatically included.

An investigation by Pulse last April revealed primary care organisations were blacklisting a series of NICE-approved drugs, including gliptins, denosumab and atorvastatin.

But the new plan will compel formularies to include drugs recommended in appraisals within 90 days of guidance being released.

The plans have been welcomed by some GPs, but the GPC warned it could bust GP commissioning budgets, because NICE would be insisting on addition of drugs to formularies without recommending others to be removed.

The Department of Health announced last December it wanted to 'remove obstacles' to adoption of new medicines to encourage the UK pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs.

NICE is now to work on guidelines on automatic inclusion of appraisals into local formularies and the DH is developing a 'NICE compliance regime' to enforce it.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told the House of Commons last month he would hold PCTs and GP commissioners to account for postcode prescribing:

'We will establish an effective compliance regime for NICE appraisals.

'When NICE gives a positive appraisal, a medicine should be available across the NHS. That was not achieved under [the previous] government. We will achieve that.' A DH spokesperson said: 'We will introduce a NICE compliance regime to reduce variation and drive up compliance with NICE appraisals.'

Dr Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: 'At the moment, there is no standard process for drug formularies and there are a lot of inconsistencies.   NICE-approved drugs should not be excluded from local formularies on the grounds of cost. We want all patients to have access to medicines we consider effective.'

Dr Graham Archard, a GP in Christchurch, Dorset, and former member of the NICE guideline development group for back pain, said: 'I am very much in favour. I accept PCTs are under financial strain, but if NICE says something should be available then I have enormous sympathy for patients who cannot access it.'

But Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC clinical prescribing subcommittee and a GP in Middlesbrough, said local formularies should be allowed to be 'dynamic' and that a compliance regime needed to be backed with funding.

He added: 'It is easy to say we want to see compliance, but resources at a local level are not easy to find. The promise was that the money would be made available ­ this does not seem to have happened.'