Consultation on the government’s plans to introduce value-based pricing (VBP) for medicines will begin next month, the Department of Health has announced.

The consultation will run until next March, the Department reveals in its newly-published business plan for 2011-15. The plan sets out the coalition govenrment’s structural reform priorities for health care, which are to: - create a patient-led NHS; - promote better healthcare outcomes; - revolutionise NHS accountability; - promote public health; and -reform social care.

These reforms “will help to create a world-class NHS that saves thousands more lives every year by freeing up resources to go to the front line, giving professionals power and patients choice, and maintaining the principle that healthcare should be delivered to patients on the basis of need, not their ability to pay,” says the Department.

The introduction of VBP comes under the document’s Structural Reform Plan aiming to promote better healthcare outcomes. This will involve shifting the focus and resources away from “bureaucratic process targets” and towards measures such as national health outcomes, patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) and patient experience measures.

The Plan states that development with drugmakers of a new pricing process for medicines will get underway from next April and be introduced after the current Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) comes to an end in January 2014, Moreover, a “milestone” of the Plan will be the establishment, in April 2012, of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) “on a firmer statutory basis,” it notes.

Other actions aimed at promoting better health outcomes will be: - scrapping process targets and introducing national health outcome measures “to prioritise the health results that really matter;” - reforming Payment by Results to provide incentives for healthcare services to deliver high-quality care; devising a palliative care funding system that is responsible to the wishes of patients, “while being fair to all providers and affordable to the public purse;” and - providing support for the NHS to release up to £20 billion in efficiency savings over four years, for reinvestment across the system.

The Department also pledges to improve data transparency, which it says is an important principle and can also help to promote efficiency and drive down costs. For example, the business plan notes that “the breakdown of NHS expenditure into different disease classifications helps NHS Trusts to identify where their costs are out of line with those of the best. Making such information available will also help the public and other stakeholders to identify wasteful expenditure, further increasing efficiency.”

The document also notes that there may be gaps in information about which the Department is currently unaware. Therefore, prior to the introduction of any Right to Data legislation, requests by the public for the release of datasets can be made through the Department’s Customer Service Centre.

The business plan will be refreshed annually, and each month the Department will publish a “simple” report on its progress in meeting the commitments set out in the document, it says.