Responsibility for the provision of drug reference information in England through the British National Formulary (BNF) is moving from the Department of Health to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), as part of the new NHS Evidence portal which is due to be launched next April.

The Department’s contract for purchase of the BNF and the BNF For Children (BNFC) will also transfer to NICE in April 2009 as part of NHS Evidence, the “one-stop-shop” for health care professionals and patients to access evidence and clinical information which is now being established by NICE, as set out in Professor Lord Ara Darzi’s next-stage review of the NHS.

The BNF is a joint publication of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), together with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Neonatal and Paediatric Pharmacists Group in the case of the BNFC. It is published biannually under the authority of a Joint Formulary Committee which comprises representatives of the two professional bodies and of the UK Health Departments.

NICE said in a statement that it is “delighted” that the BNF will become a key part of NHS Evidence at the Institute, and added: “given the aims of NHS Evidence, and the fact that drugs are a key component of NHS services and driver of NHS expenditure, it is clear that information about medicines will be a key part of the new resource.”

With the expected increase in emphasis on digital information, improvements to the delivery of the BNFs are currently underway, including the provision of a browsable alphabetical index and changes to improve access to information in the publications’ appendices.

Dr Gillian Leng, NICE’s deputy chief executive and interim chief operating officer for NHS Evidence, said the Institute is “looking forward to working in partnership with the BNF to ensure that it continues to provide high-quality and clinically-relevant advice.”

“Working with NICE to support the development of NHS Evidence is a logical progression for the BNF, which will help to ensure that it continues to play an important role in supporting safe and effective prescribing practice,” added Professor Martin Kendall, chairman of the BNF’s formulary development committee.

Anger in Wales over DTB rationing

Meantime, the BMA in Wales has reacted “with incredulity” to the news that funding for the monthly Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), which is currently sent free to all doctors in the country, is to be restricted for nine months and then ended completely.

Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart’s decision to reduce distribution of the “indispensable” DTB to one copy per GP surgery and one per hospital department until next March and then cease funding altogether is “incredible” and will “impact heavily on the ability of doctors to treat patients safely,” said BMA Cymru Secretary Dr Richard Lewis.

“Evidence-based prescribing is essential in order to provide good quality healthcare to patients. Complications through both overuse and underuse of drugs can lead to emergency hospital admissions and the wastage of medicines, leading to unnecessary costs for the NHS in Wales,” said Dr Lewis, adding: “if the Welsh Assembly Government values doctors and other health professionals, limiting the provision of ‘tools of their trade’ is a strange way of showing it.”

The BMA did accept that that the DTB will still be available to all clinicians electronically, but: “we are still concerned that not having the bulletins available in paper form could cause problems with homes visits and emergency call-outs or if computers fail,” he warned.

“When the Minister says she cannot afford to make sure each practising clinician has this up-to-date information to hand, she is, in effect, saying she cannot afford patient safety,” added Dr Andrew Dearden, chairman of the BMA’s Welsh Council.

- Published monthly since 1962 by the BMJ Group, the DTB is wholly independent of industry, government and regulatory authorities and does not carry any display advertising or accept any form of commercial sponsorship.