Government proposals to introduce a value-based pricing system for new drugs will not significantly improve patient access to treatments, experts have warned.

This could mean the existing cancer drugs fund has to be retained.

The controversial fund, worth £600m over three years, was set up in 2011 to pay for drugs that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence had found not to be cost effective or had not yet assessed.

Department of Health guidance on the operation of the fund, published earlier this month, described it as a “bridge” until the planned 2014 introduction of value-based pricing. In its response to the consultation on the proposals last year the DH said the aim of the scheme was to improve access to “effective and innovative” medicines.

However, NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon told last week’s Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry conference that value-based pricing would not solve the problem of NHS organisations failing to offer patients access to treatments recommended by NICE, even if it had some impact on uptake of new drugs.

He added: “Uptake is a distinct problem in its own right that needs to be tackled by the government, the NHS, industry and NICE.”

ABPI value and access director Paul Catchpole said the cancer drugs fund and value-based pricing addressed different issues: value-based pricing aimed to provide a broader picture of the value to patients and the NHS while the cancer drugs fund paid for treatment where there was a lack of evidence of value.

Karol Sikora, director of Cancer Partners UK, which runs a network of treatment centres, said the 2015 general election would influence drugs policy.

He said: “The trouble now is that whatever the value-based pricing solution that actually emerges, it will be coupled with the political solution of the cancer drugs fund. They can’t allow people to be dying of cancer [for want of a drug] in an election year.”

Just 27 per cent of conference attendees said in a vote they understood the proposals for value-based pricing.

The DH’s current plan envisages the quality-adjusted life year measure – used by NICE to determine whether a drug is value for money – being weighted to take account of additional factors such as wider benefits to society or if the drug treats a previously untreatable condition.

Sheffield University has been commissioned by the DH to research what value the public places on these additional factors while York University is exploring whether the current £30,000 cap per quality-adjusted life year is appropriate.

Beating Bowel Cancer chief executive Mark Flannagan warned value-based pricing would create new “winners and losers” and could actually be detrimental to cancer patients.

“Capturing societal costs and benefits might not benefit cancer patients because they generally don’t go back to work because they’re not working age,” he said.