The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is preparing to launch a new service, providing patients with independent, impartial advice on drugs and other treatments, including those which it has already said are not sufficiently cost-effective to be made available on the National Health Service (NHS).

Armed with this information, patients could then choose whether to purchase the treatments privately.

The development is reportedly linked to the review of the current ban on patients “topping-up” their treatment with privately-purchased medicines without losing their NHS care, which was announced by Health Secretary Alan Johnson in June, as public pressure grew for the ban to be lifted. National Cancer Director Mike Richards is currently examining the issues and is due to report back to Mr Johnson in October. Many observers believe that the outcome of his review will be a recommendation that patients should be allowed to pay to receive drugs which are not funded under the NHS, but that they should also be required to pay for the additional costs of administering them.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, NICEs chief executive Andrew Dillon said if the government did want to go in the direction of permitting such co-payments, “then we are absolutely the right organisation to support the process for doing so. One of the things we think we could do really well would be to provide entirely independent objective information for individuals to make up their own mind. We think we could do that very well and would be happy to do that."

It is also reported that NICE will provide the service through NHS Evidence, a new web-based portal which Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review of the NHS said should be set up, and managed by the Institute, to provide all NHS staff with access to clinical and non-clinical evidence and best practice on high quality care and how to deliver it.

Consultations on Prof Richards’ review of the co-payment ban are set to close on August 22.