Department Announces Improved Access to New Drugs

Date published: 12 September 2018


The Department of Health today announced plans to improve access to innovative new medicines for cancers and other conditions.


The changes will ensure Northern Ireland patients have the same access to cancer drugs as their counterparts in other UK regions.

For example, drugs approved by NICE for use through the Cancer Drug Fund in England will now be considered in line with existing arrangements for NI endorsement of NICE recommendations and be equally accessible here.

The changes announced today will take effect during this financial year and will be implemented as a priority.

They follow an extensive evaluation and public consultation of the Individual Funding Request (IFR) process.

Taken as a whole, the changes will increase access to promising new treatments, improve the overall consistency of the IFR process, include a greater level of clinical input, and increase emphasis on the clinical benefit to the patient, all of which are factors in the public interest.

As part of the new package of measures, decisions on IFRs will be taken by a clinically led Regional Scrutiny Committee.  This will fulfil a Ministerial Commitment to place clinical expertise at the heart of this sensitive and important decision making process. 

The Department will also provide access to those promising new medicines which have been made available to patients in the rest of the UK through various funding mechanisms, such as the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of Department of Health, has said; “New drugs for cancer and other life threatening and debilitating illnesses come on to the market every year. These are often very expensive in terms of both cost of the drugs and the infrastructure (e.g. staff, and hospital, pharmacy and laboratory capacity) needed to deliver them.  This presents an enormous challenge to the health service and we need to ensure that funding is focused on drugs which demonstrate that they are clinically effective and represent value for money.

However, this must also be balanced against the need to ensure that patients here also have timely access to the most promising new treatments. I am aware that patients and clinicians here have been frustrated by the difference in access arrangements and I am pleased that we are now in a position to bring forward these changes which will increase access to new medicines for patients in Northern Ireland.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Office directly on 028 9037 8110 and your call will be returned. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.


How are these medicines accessed?

  • Where NICE recommends new drugs for use within the Cancer Drugs Fund in England, these will now be made available in the same way as those drugs which have been recommended by NICE as suitable for routine commissioning.
  • The medicines covered by these arrangements will be prescribed by clinicians in hospitals in line with clinical guidelines and evidence.
  • Consultants will be able to make decisions on the most appropriate treatments for patients and to make individual funding requests as clinically indicated to the Regional Scrutiny Committee.

Which drugs are covered?

  • The IFR process will cover licensed medicines that NICE has not recommended or has not yet appraised.
  • The new arrangements will ensure that patients here have access to drugs that have received conditional approval from NICE for use within the Cancer Drugs Fund in England.

How much will the new arrangements cost?

  • Current estimates based on calculations from the outturn of the 17/18 CDF activity put the additional cost of access at between £2m and £2.5m per year.

When will these drugs be available?

  • The Department will work with the Health & Social Care Board to enable access as a high priority, within this financial year.

Is this a Cancer Drug Fund (CDF) for Northern Ireland?

  • No, the CDF exists only in England.  However, this decision will ensure that patients here have the same level of access to promising new cancer treatments as other parts of the UK.

Can the Department make this change without a Minister?

  • The Department has taken legal advice and is satisfied that the planned changes are in the public interest and in line with the policy objectives of previous Ministers.

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