Swift action is needed to ensure a smooth changeover to a new system of pricing for the drugs used by the NHS, the Commons health committee has said in a report today.
It argues several major decisions now need to be taken without delay after it conducted a review into the work of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence.
There has been a particularly unacceptable delay in outlining exactly how a value-based pricing system for drugs will work, the committee said, in view of the fact that a government consultation on the issue was opened in December 2010.
The precise arrangements for value-based pricing should have been made clear by now, it believes.
In its report, the committee also calls for greater transparency in the results of clinical drug trials.
There should be a professional and legal obligation for NICE and all regulators to have access to all available research data about the efficacy and safety of pharmaceutical products already in use in the UK, the MPs argue.
Withholding research data about products that are already in use should be neither ethical nor legal practice, they say.
The committee does however welcome that fact that NICE has been tasked, as of March this year, with producing guidance for the social care sector and integrated care.
“This could make a substantial contribution to the establishment of new models of care which focus on the treatment of people rather than conditions,” Conservative chair of the health committee Stephen Dorrell said as he launched the report.
He said such a shift is key to the continuing provision of high-quality and comprehensive care in the years ahead.
The committee also touched on issues surrounding cancer drugs and highlighted one area where greater clarity is needed, namely the proposed move for the Cancer Drugs Fund to be replaced by the value-based pricing model.
It said there is uncertainty about what the changes will mean for the Cancer Drugs Fund, which the government introduced in 2011 to allow the use of drugs not approved by NICE.
“There needs to be a proper assessment of what benefits the Cancer Drugs Fund has brought, with those benefits being applied to the treatment of other conditions,” Mr Dorrell said.
And a “clear mechanism” is needed to cover the funding of treatment in future for patients who have come under the Cancer Drugs Fund, he added.
On the issue of clinical trials, Mr Dorrell expressed concern that the committee has been shown evidence suggesting “some of the data supplied from clinical trials has been selective and incomplete”.
He stressed: “This situation cannot be allowed to continue, and we set out a number of practical steps that could be taken now to increase transparency about the results of clinical drug trials and which would benefit everyone: patients, clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry.”
In terms of value-based pricing, Mr Dorrell said the committee had received information during its inquiry that indicated the move to the new system “will be a more modest change than has been suggested”.
But the “lack of clarity” on the issue of value-based pricing has “persisted for too long”, he continued.
“Decisions need to be taken, and the details of the scheme made public to avoid problems with the transition to the new system at the beginning of 2014. We hope the government will respond positively to our suggestion that this situation should be clarified before the end of March this year,” Mr Dorrell added.