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Earlier this week, the Welsh government launched a New Treatments Fund to help patients with life-limiting and debilitating conditions gain access to the latest drugs more quickly. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething has confirmed that £80m will be made available over the life of the current Welsh government to help health boards in Wales speed up the availability of new medicines. This equates to £16m per year until 2021.
The policy formed part of Labour’s manifesto for Wales ahead of last year’s National Assembly election, and was in response to a political row over the Cancer Drugs Fund in England that had led to Welsh patients crossing the border to access treatment. However, the New Treatments Fund is not only for cancer drugs, but includes treatments for other conditions as well as cancer.
All new treatments that are used in Wales need to be recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) before they can be used in the Welsh NHS. In the past, Welsh health boards have been criticised for being too slow and inconsistent when funding new treatments. Under the New Treatments Fund, access to new, innovative medicines will be accelerated, and all health boards will be required to make all treatments approved by NICE and AWMSG available within 2 months after the date they have been recommended as cost-effective (previously they were allowed 3 months). However, the Cancer Drugs Fund in England enables access to the most promising cancer drugs before they are approved by NICE.