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NHS: Clinical Commissioning Groups’ Funding of Treatment

Volume 749: debated on Tuesday 12 November 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many types of treatment Clinical Commissioning Groups have decided not to offer to patients since April 2013.

My Lords, clinical commissioning groups are now responsible for commissioning services and treatments for their local populations, with NHS England providing oversight and support. NHS England has advised that it does not routinely collect data on the number and type of treatments that CCGs have decided not to offer to patients. We have been clear: restricting access to services on the basis of cost alone is wrong and compromises patient care. Commissioning decisions should be made using clinical evidence and best practice guidance.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is he not concerned about the recent British Medical Journal survey, which showed that since CCGs took over, one in seven have introduced new treatment restrictions, including treatment for hip and knee replacements, cataracts, and caesarean births for non-medical reasons? What steps are the Government taking to ensure regional and national monitoring and consistency of treatment policies across the NHS? Moreover, the Royal College of Surgeons is concerned that so few CCGs are meeting their legal obligation to publish guidance on how they will provide medicines, surgery and therapeutic interventions. This was meant to provide transparency in rationing decisions. What will the Government do about it?

My Lords, the availability of some healthcare services is determined nationally; for example, under NICE technology recommendations. Some services are commissioned directly by NHS England, but in most cases decision-making on whether to fund a service or treatment is left to the local CCG or local authority. That is to enable CCGs and local authorities to commission services that best fit the needs of their local population. For such decision-making it is very important that the process is rational, transparent and fair. The right contained in the NHS constitution ensures that that happens. If a CCG decides that a treatment will not normally be funded, it needs to be able to consider whether to fund that treatment for an individual patient on an exceptional basis.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, largely as a result of new developments in molecular biology, a number of highly effective but also very expensive so-called orphan and ultra-orphan drugs are coming on stream for the treatment of patients with rare diseases? If these drugs are approved by the rare disease advisory group of NHS England and by NICE, will it then be incumbent on clinical commissioning groups to agree to their being prescribed for NHS patients?

My Lords, the system is very clear. If NICE recommends under its technology appraisal that a drug should be made available, the funding will automatically follow.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a patient with rheumatoid arthritis who is on a biologic. What data are available to show whether CCGs follow NICE guidelines for the use of biologics and how long does it take for permission to be granted? I talked to rheumatologists last week at the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society awards ceremony and I was told that there is increasing evidence that CCGs delay treatment for those on biologics. Is there a case for moving chronic illnesses such as RA to NHS England rather than relying on the lottery of CCGs?

My Lords, the list of conditions for which treatment is directly commissioned by NHS England is reviewed regularly. On the particular question my noble friend asked about transparency, as part of Innovation Health and Wealth the innovation scorecard is now showing up the variations in prescribing rates between different clinical commissioning groups. We expect this information to be extremely informative as regards the decisions taken by commissioners.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the recent evidence given by the Nuffield Trust to the Health Select Committee showing that a growing, and increasingly large, number of NHS hospitals are financially unsustainable? In the light of his earlier answer to my noble friend, what arrangements do the Government have for ensuring that CCGs or local health economies are not in breach of the NHS constitution by failing to deliver the mandate that the Secretary of State has given NHS England?

My Lords, it is for NHS England to oversee the commissioning practices and policies of CCGs. If any deficiencies are brought to the attention of NHS England, they will be followed up. On the specific point made by the noble Lord about the financial sustainability of provider trusts, we would expect commissioners and trusts to engage in regular discussions about how to ameliorate that position, not only for the sake of the NHS but also to ensure that patients are treated in the right setting. As we all know, that imperative needs to be pursued very vigorously over the coming months.

They can appeal to the clinical commissioning group itself in the first instance under what is known as an individual funding request. That request has to be considered rationally and transparently. If the request is turned down, the reasons must be published.

My Lords, 55 years ago, I had my tonsils removed on the National Health Service. Had that not taken place and I now needed that procedure as an adult, according to figures from the Royal College of Surgeons I would be extremely unlikely to have them removed in the area in which I live—Haringey—but 22 times more likely to have the same procedure carried out in the Isle of Wight. Can the Minister explain why this Government’s arrangements facilitate that extraordinary postcode lottery, which means that there is no equity of treatment across the National Health Service?

My Lords, what the noble Lord calls the postcode lottery is, as he knows, nothing new. That is why Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS, has commissioned a project to engage professional bodies, particularly the Royal College of Surgeons, to develop clinical commissioning guidance, in particular, where there is unwarranted variation in the rates of elective surgical intervention. They are currently looking at 28 common types of surgical intervention with more topics under development, and commissioning guidance will ensue from that work stream.