• Hepatitis C Trust considering judicial review of NHS England’s decision to cap new treatments for the disease
  • Charity argues the decision breaches principle that patients should get access to treatments approved as cost effective by NICE
  • NHS England says removing cap would result in “dramatic offsetting cuts” elsewhere in the NHS

The Hepatitis C Trust is considering a judicial review of NHS England’s decision to restrict access to new drugs for the disease.

If a legal change is mounted and successful it would have huge implications for NHS England’s budget and how the health service provides access to expensive new drugs in the future.

medication tablets prescription

medication tablets prescription

The charity said ‘it feels like people with hepatitis C are being picked on’

In 2015 new oral treatments for hepatitis C were approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. The drugs are extremely effective, but NHS England has identified them as a significant financial risk because of their high cost and the prevalence of the disease.

Following an unprecedented decision by NICE to give NHS England permission to delay implementation of the new treatments, the drugs are now being rolled out.

However, courses of treatment have been capped at 10,000 for 2016-17.

The Hepatitis C Trust claims this is the first time a therapy approved as cost effective by NICE has been capped, and argues it “fundamentally changes” the role of NICE.

The charity wrote to NHS England to ask it to reconsider its decision, but said the national commissioner replied with a response it “did not find satisfactory”.

“With great regret [the Hepatitis C Trust] now has to consider seeking a judicial review of the decision,” the charity said.

Charles Gore, the charity’s chief executive, said: “It is truly ironic that NHS England should chose to start rationing drugs that are so effective they cure almost everyone who is treated.

“It feels like people with hepatitis C are being picked on. We are having to look to the courts to protect them.”

The charity has launched a crowdfunding campaign to try to fund its legal action.

An NHS England spokesman said: “This is a strange response to the fact that over the past year the NHS has actually made [hepatitis C] treatment its biggest single investment –making available £200m.

“The right approach is to do what NICE and the NHS recommended, namely treat urgent patients first – as we have done – and then work through the backlog of chronic but non-urgent cases over time, while taking advantage of downward pressure on drug prices.

“By contrast, attempting to do what some of the drug companies and their partners would prefer would create a bill for British taxpayers running into the billions, meaning dramatic offsetting cuts in other critical NHS services.”