Starting this autumn, NHS organisations will have to comply with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance on new drugs and treatments, or explain to patients why there is a delay, Ministers have announced. 

Under a new, three-part regime aimed at getting the latest drugs and treatments to patients more quickly, the government will publish an Innovation Scorecard, allowing patients and the public to see which NHS bodies are quickly adopting the latest NICE-approved drugs.

Also, the NHS will have no excuse not provide the latest NICE-recommended drugs and treatments, which will be automatically added onto lists of what drugs are available in local areas, and these “will be published for all to see," says the Department of Health. This means that NICE's new recommendations will be made available automatically for doctors to prescribe across the NHS.

Third, a new group is to be set up to help local NHS organisations implement NICE guidance and overcome any barriers to doing so. New drugs and treatments can mean the NHS has to make big changes in the way that it provides services, and this can be a complicated process, so the new group will help spread best practice and make uptake by the NHS quicker for patients, says the Department.

"Patients have a right to drugs and treatments that have been approved by NICE. This new regime will be a catalyst for change - we are determined to eradicate variation and drive up standards for everyone," said Health Minister Paul Burstow.

"NHS organisations must make sure the latest NICE-approved treatments are available in their area, and if they are not, then they will now be responsible for explaining why not. Being transparent with data like this is the hallmark of a 21st-century NHS. It is a fundamental tool to help healthcare professionals improve patient care," the Minister added.

The government also points out that as NHS organisations get funding for each new NICE appraisal, "financial issues should not be a barrier to the uptake of innovative new treatments."

But, according to the NHS Confederation, with the NHS facing unprecedented financial challenge, its organisations must live within their means while providing high-quality care.

"The reality is we can only afford to provide new drugs or treatments where they are cost-effective and demonstrably add real patient benefits," said David Stout, deputy chief executive of the Confederation.

"In a health system with no financial growth, any new costs have to be offset by savings elsewhere - that is why it is crucial that NHS organisations engage their local communities and clinicians in decisions about priorities," he added.

Mr Stout also cautioned that while sharing information of uptake on innovative ideas is extremely useful for creating new treatments and medicines, allows NHS bodies to measure their progress and look at new ways of providing care and treatment and can increase transparency, any new measures must not lead to "unnecessary bureaucracy or a duplication of information with no real benefits for hospitals, GPs or patients."

In its response, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said it warmly welcomes the introduction of the NHS Innovation Scorecard.

"There is still a great deal of variation across the country on which treatments patients are able to access, and so I am hopeful the Scorecard will help highlight discrepancies which can then be addressed," commented ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead.

"The Scorecard is a definite step forward and I think it is particularly important that there is a focus on the uptake of new medicines, as UK patients still don't receive the latest treatments as quickly as their European counterparts. This is not only bad for the health of the nation, but also means we lose the opportunity to drive efficiency savings through the use of medicines, which can often reduce the need for expensive hospital care," he said.

Mr Whitehead added that the industry also welcomes the other moves announced by Ministers to support the use of NICE-recommended treatments, such as automatically including themonto local medicine availability lists and the creation of a group to help local NHS organisations implement NICE guidelines.

NICE said it hopes that the Scorecards "will help rapidly get a consistent response to national guidance." 

Scorecards will be valuable not just to patients but also help hospitals assess how well they're performing and ensure that best practice is disseminated across the NHS, said the Institute's chief executive, Sir Andrew Dillon.