Patients across the country will soon be able to see whether their local hospital or health authority is "rationing care" as part of Government plans to eradicate "postcode prescribing" in the NHS.
From this autumn every hospital and commissioning body in England will be forced to start collecting and publishing statistics showing how many of its patients are being provided with the latest drugs and treatments recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice).
By next year every hospital and health trust will be rated using an "innovation scorecard" allowing patients to compare services and treatments offered in different parts of the country. Those health authorities found to be denying approved treatments are likely to face censure by the Department of Health.
The plans are due to be announced by the head of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, next month, i understands.
At first the "scorecard" is likely to be made up of around 20 key treatments and interventions – where uptake across the NHS is known to be inconsistent. However, it is expected to be expanded over time to include all new drugs recommended by Nice for use in the NHS. Ministers hope the move will bring an end to the persistent problem of "postcode prescribing", where health authorities restrict access to approved drugs to save money.
Last year it emerged that about a quarter of primary care trusts (PCTs) were blacklisting expensive drugs in favour of cheaper "generic" versions, which are sometimes not as effective.
Paul Burstow, the Health Minister, said allowing patients to see where drugs were being restricted would be a catalyst for change: "NHS organisations must make sure the latest Nice-approved treatments are available in their area, and if they are not, they will now be responsible for explaining why not."
Sir Andrew Dillon, head of Nice, said Nice has been working with the NHS Information Centre on drawing up a scorecard of around 20 indicators to assess how well hospitals were adopting Nice appraisals.
But hospital managers expressed concern that the new system could be bureaucratic and warned that they were facing financial constraints. "We can only afford to provide new drugs or treatments where they are cost-effective and demonstrably add real patient benefits," said David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation.