HC Deb 13 November 2001 vol 374 cc710-2
9. Liz Blackman (Erewash)

When he expects the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to publish its recommendations on the prescribing of atypical anti-psychotic medicines for schizophrenia. [12113]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith)

We anticipate that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence will publish guidance on atypical anti-psychotic drugs in March 2002, provided that there are no appeals against the draft guidance.

Liz Blackman

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I welcome the fact that NICE is appraising this class of drugs at the moment. I hope that there is no slippage in that programme. Is my hon. Friend aware that, although the traditional anti-psychotic drugs used at present on patients suffering from schizophrenia are useful, they also have some worrying long-term effects? Those effects include irreversible involuntary facial and body movements, which have long-term consequences for patients' employability and care needs.

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the consequences of side effects on the wider lives of people suffering from schizophrenia, and I assure her that the NICE appraisal will look at the side effects of both traditional and atypical anti-psychotic drugs. It is important that a wide range of stakeholders—including users, carers, professionals and industry representatives—should be consulted and provide evidence to NICE.

The appraisal will contribute to the on-going development of the clinical guideline on the management of schizophrenia, which is due for publication by the end of 2002. In that way we will be able to ensure that people with schizophrenia receive the very best and most appropriate care on the NHS across the whole range of treatment options, including treatment with drugs.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the Minister confirm the general point that drugs licensed in the United Kingdom—including the atypical anti-psychotic drugs and the anti-TNF drugs for rheumatoid arthritis currently under consideration by NICE—can still be prescribed and funded by local health authorities? Will funds be made available to local health authorities to enable them to prescribe the drugs permitted or encouraged by NICE?

Jacqui Smith

We have made it clear that local health authorities should continue with their prescribing activities, but the problem highlighted by the hon. Gentleman is the reason that we have introduced NICE. NICE is a key component in ensuring that there is a common-sense way to end postcode prescribing: without it, the mess of variable access to treatment under different local policies would have continued. Where NICE has laid down guidelines already, rapid progress has been made towards giving people access to treatments on the NHS.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

The Minister will be aware of the widespread concern in the House that these modern medicines should be made available to patients, and she will have seen the reports from the Zito trust and heard the representations from the National Schizophrenia Federation, MIND and other bodies. Will the Minister say whether NICE has already reached its provisional findings in relation to those medicines? If so, will she insist that they be published? That would give those of us who want to argue and make further representations a chance to do so?

Finally, will she confirm that, if NICE finds against the medicines on the grounds of affordability, it will still be possible for the Government to consider the matter again, as happened with beta interferon? If that is not going to be possible, will she say why?

Jacqui Smith

As I said earlier, it is right that NICE should undertake the detailed analysis and consultation with stakeholders that is already under way. Provisional appraisal decisions are made available to the consultees, so that there can be continuing input into the decisions being made by NICE. Having set up an independent way of determining both the cost and the clinical effectiveness of drugs, I do not believe that it is right for Ministers to intervene in the approach that NICE is taking, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that—as I pointed out earlier—the evidence of the effectiveness of NICE is that it has brought into the NHS, for the benefit of NHS patients, many treatments that were previously available only on the basis of a postcode and random prescribing process.