Scots denied life-saving drugs

Scots suffering from life-threatening diseases are being denied many of the latest and most effective drugs because of foot-dragging by health chiefs and doctors, according to Scotland on Sunday.

25 new treatments were recommended for use in 2007 for conditions including cancer, HIV, heroin addiction, osteoporosis and anaemia, but in most areas around a quarter are either tied up in local bureaucracy or have been rejected. Scotland on Sunday's investigation has shown that a health postcode lottery still operates north of the border, with one health board, Lothian, yet to formally approve 19 of the new treatments recommended, and another, Ayrshire and Arran, holding back 10 from its list of recommended drugs. Meanwhile Tayside is giving out all but two of the new drugs.

Many of the new drugs are potential life-savers, such as Xeloda for advanced gastric cancer, which costs £320 a year per patient. Despite the decision to recommend the drug for use in Scotland from August last year, it is still not being prescribed in Lothian, Glasgow or Ayrshire. It is more expensive than existing treatments but is available in tablets, which makes it easier for patients to take.

The drugs were recommended for NHS use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), which evaluates new treatments based on how well they work and whether they are cost effective. Its findings are handed out to health boards and doctors are expected to use the new treatments. SMC insiders are angry that many new drugs are failing to get through to patients. One source said there should rarely be a delay of more than three months between recommendation and local use.

Scotland on Sunday used Freedom of Information legislation to obtain details from Scotland's 11 mainland health boards on which of the new drugs are being made available.

Scots denied best NHS drugs: Postcode lottery revealed as cost and bureaucracy block use of approved, life-saving treatments (Scotland on Sunday, 20 January 2008)