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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
NHS to curb 'outdated' treatments
Operating theatre
Unnecessary operations are one area which will be addressed
The NHS is to come under pressure to weed out ineffective and obsolete treatments by the drugs watchdog.

The National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence is to encourage doctors to stop using old treatments when newer ones are available.

It was revealed that unnecessary tonsillectomies and hysterectomies are said to cost the NHS £21m a year.

The government, which is backing the initiative, said it was not about rationing care to save money.

Health minister Andy Burnham said NHS trusts would be allowed to keep the money but said it was right to stand back to look at the whole picture.

He added: "New drugs and treatments are continuously emerging and trusts have to make difficult decisions about how to invest funding."

Struggle

England's Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson, who has raised the issue of unnecessary operations before, said: "As technology advances to expand the range of possible health interventions, it is important that effective therapies to address significant health problems are adopted and that ineffective treatments are abandoned."

NICE has so far struggled to offer advice on old treatments because of the backlog of new treatments to evaluate.

But the NHS advisory body said it has got to grips with the backlog by introducing a fast-track appraisal scheme, allowing it to turn its attention to existing treatments.

Every penny wasted on ineffective treatments is a penny that could have been better spent on other services for the benefit of patients
Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation

NICE said it would be using three techniques to encourage the NHS to cutback on some drugs and technologies.

First, it may make use of its existing guidance process to advise the NHS when not to use treatments if new, better therapies are available.

NICE is also planning to issue reminders about previous guidance to enable doctors and managers to catch up.

A reminder is already in the pipeline on home and hospital haemodialysis.

Nearly all haemodialysis is carried out in hospitals, but if 15% of patients were treated at home it would save the NHS £9.7m a year.

Finally, guides will be produced for managers to help establish benchmarks for treatments in certain areas.

Several are already planned covering diabetes and respiratory disease.

NICE also said it was keen to hear from people working in the health service about where they think savings could be made.

And Professor Sir Mike Rawlins, the chairman of NICE, added health systems across the world were grappling with the same problem as new treatments were coming on to the market all the time.

"It is about helping doctors keep up to date."

Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents managers, backed the programme, saying: "Every penny wasted on ineffective treatments is a penny that could have been better spent on other services for the benefit of patients."

But Sam Everington, deputy chairman of the British Medical Assoication, said: "We would not want to see a blanket ban imposed on certain treatments since there may be occasions where individual patients, with specific health needs, would necessitate a particular intervention."


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