New drugs are being developed all the time. The healthcare that we receive today has been transformed by these medications, with people living full lives with what were once debilitating and life-limiting conditions. What were once considered radical, pioneering treatments are now very much part of routine use.
Before these new drugs can be introduced for routine use they have to undergo years of rigorous tests and trials to ensure that they are safe, and that the long-term benefits are believed to outweigh the risks to those who will take them.
Finding and developing new medicines takes around 10 to 15 years. It is a very expensive process and, while estimates vary, it can cost more than £1 billion to develop a new medicine - from its discovery through to gaining a licence.
In the UK, all drugs are vetted for routine use through an organisation called the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides evidence-based guidance, advice and information for health, public health and social care professionals.
There are, however, other specialist drugs where the doctors treating someone may agree that a patient will benefit from their use, but they are not approved by NICE for routine use.
These drugs can be quite expensive, and that in itself presents challenges for the Department of Health when there is less money available for the day-to-day running of our health and social care services in Northern Ireland.
In order to access these specialist drugs, hospital consultants must make an Individual Funding Request (IFR) on the behalf of their patients to the Regional Scrutiny Committee (RSC) for treatment that is not normally commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board.
The Health Minister is now asking for the public’s views on how we make decisions on whether to pay for these medicines. On Wednesday, Minister O’Neill opened a consultation process that will run until Friday 7th April 2017. You can access the consultation at http://bit.ly/2jUnSEE
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