21/01/2009

NI Patients To Be Allowed Access To 'Top-up' Medication

A leading NI cancer charity has welcomed today's announcement by the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey that cancer patients here will be allowed to pay for additional drugs without losing their entitlement to free health service care.

Joyce Savage from the Ulster Cancer Foundation said: "Cancer patients have to deal with, not only the emotional burden following their diagnosis, but also the financial impact of the disease.

"This new approach to patient care will allow cancer patients greater access and options to buy drugs privately without forfeiting their right to free health service care," she said.

"We applaud the Health Minister's decisive action which will undoubtedly have a positive effect on patients' well-being."

The move means that patients in Northern Ireland are to have the same rights as those in England and Wales to pay privately for drugs not currently approved for use in the health service.

NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said today that patients here will be allowed to pay for any additional drugs without losing their entitlement to free health service care.

In response to the recent report on 'top up' payments by Professor Mike Richards, the UK's National Clinical Director for Cancer, the Minister said: "I have given careful consideration to Professor Mike Richards' report which makes recommendations to improve access to medicines for health service patients.
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"I have decided that, very ill patients here should, as in England and Wales, be able to benefit from the option of paying for additional drug treatments alongside their health service care.

"The patients who are most likely to be affected by this issue will be those facing a terminal illness.

"However, I also believe that we should keep a clear distinction between what can be considered private and public health care. In this way we can aim to strike a better balance in the tension between our desire to provide very ill patients, near the end of life, with greater choice about their care and our concern that the core values of the health service should be upheld," he said, noting that, he would wish to see greater access to potentially life-extending drugs within the health-service however the availability of resources remains a key issue.

Meanwhile, Minister McGimpsey has also revealed new standards for the treatment and care of people suffering and at risk from respiratory disease.

He said that the 'Service Framework for Respiratory Health and Well-being' will be supported with an investment of at least £2.5million for the implementation of the framework as well as £3.2million to support people suffering from asthma bronchitis and emphysema.

This will include improving access to drugs and services as well as the development of community services to allow people to manage their condition at home.

(BMcC/JM)

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