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Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health when variations in access to services for arthritis sufferers across England will be eliminated; and if he will make a statement. [109236]

We have made clear our commitment to cut National Health Service waiting times for all patients. Patients in need of orthopaedic procedures are already benefiting from this. Between December 2001 and December 2002, the number of people waiting longer than 12 months fell by 60.3 per cent. The NHS is on target to reduce maximum waiting times to six months by the end of 2005.Our policies to improve general hospital care, especially through the new single assessment process, will ensure that the health care needs of older people—who are the main sufferers from arthritis—will be properly targeted. This will ensure that the services that are provided are most appropriate to older people's needs, including people with arthritis.In the past year, two new classes of drugs, Cox II inhibitors and anti-TNF therapy have been made available to arthritis patients, following reviews by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). In addition, NICE is reviewing the drug, Anakinra, for its clinical and cost effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis.We have issued directions obliging strategic health authorities and primary care trusts to provide appropriate funding for treatments recommended by NICE. This is in line with our manifesto commitment to ensure that patients receive drugs and treatments recommended by NICE on the NHS if considered appropriate by their clinicians.We are determined to ensure that the obligation of health bodies to follow NICE guidance is carried out. The Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) and NICE have agreed a methodology for CHI to incorporate the monitoring of NICE guidance in its clinical governance reviews. Specifically, CHI now looks to see if NHS trusts have mechanisms in place to implement and comply with NICE guidance. CHI will also support and facilitate clinicians to discuss when NICE guidance is and is not followed on an individual patient basis.