Guidance on when new drugs should be used could benefit patients and their families in Scotland, health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has said.

New rules are being introduced after a cancer patient battled to get treatment and ended up paying thousands of pounds for medicine.

Health boards must now take the new guidance into account when considering making drugs available on the NHS, including those that have not been approved or considered by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which approves NHS drugs for general use.

The guidance was compiled after terminally ill bowel cancer patient Michael Gray, who died in April 2008, petitioned Scottish parliament because he had to pay thousands of pounds for a drug that stabilised his condition.

NHS Grampian later decided to pay for his treatment but Holyrood’s public petitions committee said health boards need to be clearer in deciding whether patients should be given drugs that are not usually available on the NHS.

Ms Sturgeon said a “fair, rigorous and quick system” is already in place for approving NHS drugs.

Even if a drug is not approved, patients can still be prescribed them in certain circumstances, she said.

But “navigating the system is not always easy, particularly when patients and their loved ones are dealing with very difficult circumstances”, Ms Sturgeon admitted.