Lord Ara Darzi and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence have this morning unveiled a new action plan to help patients in the country get better access to novel medicines.

The plan consists of four different measures designed to help more patients get faster access to “life-saving, clinically and cost effective drugs” on the National Health Service, as well as ensure that local NHS bodies make “more robust and transparent decisions” on funding new treatments in the absence of NICE guidance.

A consultation on a “new and faster system for referring drugs to NICE for appraisal” is to be launched in the hope that the proposals it generates will help the Institute to issue more timely guidance and therefore speed access to novel medicines.

The government has also promised an additional appraisal committee to provide NICE with the resources it needs to accelerate its appraisal of new treatments, as well as more cash for “horizon scanning” so that new drugs are selected earlier for appraisal.

And finally, the NHS will be provided with new guidance to help PCTs make better decisions on which treatments to fund where there is no existing guidance, as well as a programme of training and support to help the Service implement NICE’s guidance.

Commenting on today’s proposals, Chief Executive of NICE, Andrew Dillon said: “We are very keen to ensure that our guidance is produced as quickly as possible to benefit patients and the NHS”.

“Speeding up non-cancer appraisals by at least three months to come in to line with the cancer appraisals, and increasing transparency by clarifying topic selection criteria, are just some of the potential improvements we and the Department of Health are suggesting”, he added.

NICE has come under increasing fire over the last few years for the time lag between new therapies hitting the market and patient access to them, and critics claim that access to new life-enhancing and life-extending therapies is slower in the UK than in any other major European country.