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Funding For Specialist Drugs

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

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Previous comments ...

R T, Larne 02-Feb-2017 at 10:26 hrs

When a person's quality of life is directly impacted by a chronic condition which has no beneficial treatment currently available, any hope that new treatment can offer must be grabbed at. But in days of financial belt-tightening cost must be considered and if the manufacturers can reduce the price it must be encouraged.
Also, it may be an idea to have free prescriptions for chronic conditions and paid-for prescriptions for one off conditions/illnesses. This may help make expensive treatments more readily available.


Pat Shields 31-Jan-2017 at 19:16 hrs

Your blog indicates that the DHSSPs wishes to consult on how to fund ( probably high cost) medications. However you indicate that NICE do not engage with tjoses other that professionals. I wonder if the professional reflect the views of patients or is their emphasis funding focuses?
Understand that there is a range of need for expensive medication which ranges from cancer services ,Eye conditions( macular conditions) , children services etc. I think that ther should bra distribution of funding that reflects the needs of patients across the range of medical need.


Elizabeth from Ballymena 31-Jan-2017 at 18:04 hrs

I feel drugs should be available where the age, medical condition etc. is taken into account. Not every patient will be suitable and may not prolong life without side-
effects that make taking them counterproductive. The GP or Consultant should have the final say in the decision and not people who do not know the patient.


Daniel Sharkey 31-Jan-2017 at 13:31 hrs

Encourage consultants to prescribe these drugs .Give patients hope and a chance of prolonging life .If the drug is successful sales will blossom and costs will reduce.Drug companies must know this .Following 36 years in NHS I know and all medical and nursing staff know where saving can be made to meet the extra cost of new drugs for life threatning diseases.


Joy Scott 30-Jan-2017 at 13:38 hrs

Sometimes we only think of the length to time these drugs give to patients
I believe that the quality of life should be the major factor in decision making.


William J Campbell 30-Jan-2017 at 13:36 hrs

Does anyone from government discuss/debate-/ even haggle with drug companies about the price they are prepared to pay for drugs. These companies are a law onto themselves answerable to Shareholders and greedy bosses etc.
The actual price of even Paracetamol compared to what is paid via prescriptions is a good example. Does anyone wonder why we want these things in state ownership ( and without the highly paid managers)