THE long awaited news that patients should be able to top-up their NHS care with private treatments if they can't get what they need on the NHS will have come as a huge relief to many.
The debate over top-ups is emotional and understandably so as we have seen so many tragic cases highlighted on the television.
Denying patients NHS treatment simply because they have decided to pay for private treatment unavailable on the NHS is not just wrong but morally abhorrent. Changes to the rules to stop this from happening again in the future are therefore very welcome.
But this is only part of the story about access to drugs for NHS patients. Over the last ten years, the British taxpayer has doubled the amount of money being spent on the NHS, yet patients are still not receiving life saving cancer treatments that are routinely available in other European countries.
Patients in the NHS get slower access to new medicines than any other major European country, despite Britain having some of the best cancer research institutes in Europe. A recent report from the OECD showed that the UK spending on medicines per capita is below the average.
As new drug discoveries continue, we must look at alternative and innovative funding options. One option would be to pay pharmaceutical companies by results that their drugs achieve. This could be tough, and may mean that drug companies get less for some drugs - but it will also encourage innovation.
These proposals would mean better access to new drugs for more patients with better value for money overall. This could provide an innovative solution to a critical problem.
In the meantime, it is vitally important that the new guidance is implemented in a timely and equitable manner.