At a glance: Electronic prescribing

What does that mean? Transferring all prescribing data to a national electronic system that clinicians at various hospitals can access should reduce the variation in the way doctors treat patients. In particular, the Government says it will enable health professionals to easily identify patterns of low prescribing of new chemotherapy drugs.

And that is particularly important to pharma PROs because...?

It means strategic health authorities will have to address any under-prescribing of newer chemotherapy drugs, which have been approved by NICE, among their cancer networks. In other words, all companies should see their products competing on a level playing field.

Do I hear the words ‘postcode lottery’?

You do. The Government’s ‘cancer tsar’, Professor Mike Richards, says NICE-recommended drugs are often unavailable in parts of the country and health minister Lord Warner has promised to bring forward e-prescribing to 2006. He says differences in the way England’s 34 cancer networks use new chemotherapy drugs are both ‘unacceptable’ and ‘unfair’.

So, what will change?

A national benchmark will be produced. E-prescribing would enable cancer networks to give doctors feedback on how they prescribe chemotherapy treatments.

How do things stand at the moment?

The disparities are significant: for example, 61 per cent of women in the South-West have access to breast cancer drug trastuzumab, in contrast to just 14 per cent in the Midlands.

Would the new measures alter that?

Richards also wants NICE to publish information on what staff, training and equipment hospitals would need if they choose to prescribe a particular drug and suggests that the Department of Health develops a planning model for chemo treatments.

How serious is the Government?

Not only is it aiming to introduce e-prescribing two years early, Health Secretary John Reid is also asking the NHS at a local level to set out plans for reducing disparities.

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