The huge disparity in uptake of medicines and technologies across the NHS has been laid bare by the first “innovation scorecard”.
The NHS Information Centre published the new dataset for the first time last week. It prompted ministers to question potentially “unacceptable” levels of variation across NHS bodies.
Health minister Lord Howe said: “Patients have a right to medicines and treatments that have been approved by [the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence]and are clinically appropriate for them, it is completely unacceptable if this is not happening.
“We are determined to drive out unjustified variation. By opening up this data, NHS organisations can to see where variation exists and make improvements to address these. This data will also help patients make better decisions about where they receive their care.”
The scorecard benchmarks the uptake of 76 medicines and six medical technologies across every clinical commissioning group area. It represents the most comprehensive information on geographical availability of treatments to date.
One example of wide variation is the smoking cessation drug Varenicline.
The amount of the drug prescribed nationally, measured by the number of daily defined doses, was 19.1million, close to the 16.3 million which NICE said it would expect if the drug was available.
However, some areas of the country prescribed far more than their expected rate. For example in Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG, 217,812 doses were prescribed compared to an estimated 87,301.
Meanwhile, Harrow CCG prescribed less than a third of the NICE estimate - 20,835 doses against an estimated 66,692.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said the scorecard illustrated that usage of new medicines was “much lower than expected”.
“This again appears to demonstrate the on-going problems with getting the latest and most innovative medicines to NHS patients,” an ABPI statement added.
However, officials stressed the figures could not be used to judge whether or not commissioners have ignored NICE requirements.
NHS Commissioning Board medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said: “It is now the job of commissioners, providers and the pharmaceutical industry to work together with the [commissioning board and information centre] to review the data, and explain or address any variation.”
He said organisations should now look at their historical prescribing patterns and take into account disease prevalence, population density and existing compliance with NICE Technology Appraisals.