The Department of Health in Northern Ireland has unveiled plans to boost access to innovative new medicines for cancers and other conditions.

The changes will ensure NHS patients in Northern Ireland have the same access to cancer drugs as their counterparts in other UK regions, it said.

Under the plans, medicines approved by NICE for use through the Cancer Drug Fund in England will now be considered in line with existing arrangements for NI endorsement of NICE recommendations and be equally accessible in the country.

The move follows an evaluation and public consultation of the Individual Funding Request (IFR) process, which gives patients the chance to access medicines not normally funded by the NHS.

According to the Department, the changes together will “increase access to promising new treatments, improve the overall consistency of the IFR process, include a greater level of clinical input, and increase emphasis on the clinical benefit to the patient, all of which are factors in the public interest.”

“I am aware that patients and clinicians here have been frustrated by the difference in access arrangements and I am pleased that we are now in a position to bring forward these changes which will increase access to new medicines for patients in Northern Ireland,” commented Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary of Department of Health.

Current estimates - based on calculations from the outturn of 2017/18 CDF activity – place the additional cost of access at between £2 million and £2.5 million per year.

Welcoming the move, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said it offers new hope to the 30 NI patients every month currently denied access to the innovative cancer medicines they would receive if they lived in England.

“This is a great day for Northern Ireland cancer patients, bringing an end to a serious health inequality that has developed over recent years,” said ABPI Northern Ireland Director Colette Goldrick.

“We are pleased that the new measures are to be brought in immediately. Now we can focus efforts on working collaboratively to restore Northern Ireland’s position as a leader in the global challenge to improve outcomes for people with cancer.”