The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has taken over the National Prescribing Center, which helps the National Health Service to make the best use of medicines and therefore achieve the best outcomes for patients.

The merger, which was given a green light by the Department of Health last October, will see the NPCs functions sown into a new programme of work within the Institute's Evidence and Practice Directorate, which will be headed up by NICE Deputy Chief Executive Gillian Leng.

Since its birth in 1996 the NPC has published a huge number of resources to encourage optimal medicines management - i.e. the way medicines are selected, procured, delivered, prescribed, administered and reviewed - throughout the health service. 

Publications include MeReC bulletins on medicines and prescribing, information to support the introduction of newly licensed or marketed medicines, and advice and support to non-medical prescribers (e.g. pharmacists, nurses and optometrists), accountable officers for controlled drugs and those supporting local decisions about medicines.

The move should see a closer alignment of functions of the NPC and NICE, which have long worked hand in hand to ensure that medicines use in the health service is both of high quality and value for money, the Institute said. 

'Exciting opportunity'

According to Leng, the integration offers "an exciting opportunity for us to build on the important work that we both do in all aspects of medicines management and will further strengthen access to medicines information through NHS Evidence," a free service providing health and social care professionals with access to quality-assured healthcare information.

NICE is facing quite a change in direction under government reforms of the health system. The planned introduction of value-based pricing in 2013 means that the Institute's cost effectiveness decisions will become somewhat redundant, but its clinical effectiveness work will be crucial to attaining the best quality and most efficient care.