There has been widespread disappointment over a decision to scrap a fund designed to accelerate the uptake of innovative treatments for rare diseases in England.

Under the government's Innovation Health and Wealth agenda, the creation of a Specialised Services Commissioning Innovation Fund (SSCIF) fund was announced back in August, with the primary objective of generating data and other information on the impact of innovations on quality, cost and NHS activity levels for use in commissioning decisions.

But NHS England announced this week that it has suspended the £50 million Fund, despite having received applications for access to it, citing unexpected financial pressures.

Apologising for any "inconvenience caused", NHS England said that the scale of its work in the first year as direct commissioner of specialised services threw up an unplanned expenditure that needs to be managed now and in the future.

The "difficult decision" not to proceed with the SSCIF, which "sits outside the mainstream commissioning responsibilities on which we need to focus", is necessary if the group is to deliver its core business, it said.  

Future reinstatement

Despite NHS England's promise to "seek ways to reinstate the fund in future years," there has been much disappointment over the move. 

Alastair Kent, Chair of Rare Disease UK, said the fund "had the potential to transform the way that new innovations were identified, tested and adopted", adding: "we appreciate that the NHS is under increasing financial pressure, but hope this worthwhile tool will be reinstated at an earlier date than proposed". 

Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said he hoped the decision "will not stifle innovation and that patients will not miss out on accessing innovative new medicines as a result".  

"It is important that there are no further cuts or suspensions to the IHW programme as this will almost certainly impact on patients," he stressed.