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Consultation launched on specialist drugs in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has launched a consultation on funding access to specialist drugs.

The Individual Funding Request (IFR) process provides access to high cost specialist drugs where there is an agreed clinical need but where the drugs are not fully approved for routine use by Northern Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw had submitted a petition with more than 10,000 signatures calling for the change to the Assembly.

Health minister O'Neill said: “I understand how important it is that patients should have access to the drugs they need, however we also need to be aware that increasing access to unapproved specialist drugs will carry significant costs at a time when the Health and Social Care budget is facing real pressures.

“I welcome everyone’s view on the proposed reformed IFR process, which I hope will strike the right balance by putting clinical expertise at the centre of this decision making process.”

Ms O’Neill added:  “The outcome of the evaluation showed that members of the public were often unclear about the purpose of the IFR process and of how it worked in practice. I hope the new draft guidance, published for consultation today, will help to provide a clearer, more user friendly explanation of the process.”

Chief Executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland Roisin Foster said: “Over 26,000 people signed our petition to get equal access to new treatment for cancer patients in NI.

“Our patients are being disadvantaged in accessing new treatment, and because their treatment may be several drugs behind the latest, they are often excluded from clinical trials for the next generation of treatment.

“It is heart breaking to listen to patients who know more treatment is available for them, but which they can’t access because they live in NI.

“Cancer Focus NI is very pleased to see some progress, and in particular the removal of the 95% exceptionality clause, which is unfair and poorly understood by many people living with cancer.

“We can assure the Minister that we will facilitate the voice of cancer patients so it is heard clearly throughout this consultation process.”

The consultation on the new proposed policy comes as a result of an evaluation of the IFR process which found that the existing exceptionality criteria should be amended to remove the reference to 95%; the establishment of regional scrutiny committee should be considered to ensure all IFR applications are subject to regionally consistent clinical input which includes peer review and that the existing IFR guidance should be revised to include greater transparency.

The consultation process opened on Wednesday and will run until April 7, 2017.

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