Labour U turn on NICE’s cancer drugs postcode lottery killing policy

The rule preventing NHS patients from “topping up” their treatment is cruel and vindictive. Under just axed guidelines, anyone paying for drugs with their own money may be deprived of any further free health care.

This is a crude form of blackmail by the state provider that may have been understandable 60 years ago when the NHS was finding its feet but has no place in a modern healthcare system. It is to the credit of Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, that he has finally acted to remove this barrier to patient choice.

Allowing a co-payment system to develop in healthcare is, however, more than just a humane decision that will allow seriously ill people to purchase life-saving drugs that may be too expensive for the NHS to prescribe. It is also a fundamental step towards diversifying healthcare in a way that will allow a better-funded and more patient-friendly system.

Health insurance companies will now start marketing policies for top-up payments only, as a supplement – not an alternative – to NHS provision, an attractive option to people who cannot afford full private health insurance.

That will help remove the barrier between state and private provision that has proved so restrictive, while opening up new revenue streams. A hybrid, public/private system could then emerge, without sacrificing the cardinal NHS principle that treatment remains free at the point of delivery to all who need it.


Health Direct points out that there is now a three tier NHS service. The top level is private health insurance for NHS services. The middle tier is part payment for drugs and services. With the base rate being access for patients only if whitehall edicts allow doctors to prescribe certain life saving drugs.

Top-up insurance is still essentially a means test – and works contrary to the concept of universal access on equal terms to the NHS at all points of contact.

There is no reward here for those who already self-provide, nor any consideration of what those seeking to claim contribute to our taxes, or to the costs of the NHS.

This is a bit like thanking the person, who has decided to refrain from beating you over the head with a baseball bat.

The magic formula, top up insurance- is routine in France. The plan does not call for genius; rather, its absence calls for rebuke.

I have just one question about this, Alan Johnson is claiming credit for changing this particular rule, but which minister was it who allowed the rule to be set in the first place- Health Direct suspects the bean counter Patricia Hewitt?

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