HAs are told they must implement NICE rulings - but not told how

A major row over NHS funding levels is gathering steam. We have reported in recent weeks how finance directors have warned that achievement of key targets in the NHS plan is growing less likely as price inflation, pay and pensions soak up more cash than anticipated. Baffled, health secretary Alan Milburn has ordered an inquiry into where exactly the service's extra money has gone: with little significant rise in activity levels, it is clearly not being used to treat more patients.

Now the row will have added impetus with the decision that implementing rulings from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is to be made compulsory - but that no extra funds will be made available to provide the drugs and treatments which NICE approves. Eradicating so-called 'postcode prescribing' was one reason for setting up NICE in the first place, but by wilfully ignoring the resource implications of its decisions, ministers have failed in that aim; all too often health authorities have to cut in one area to follow NICE guidance in another. Any modification of NICE's role should address this issue or it will merely inflame a long-standing aggravation.