Doctors are to be advised on the best and most cost-effective treatment for stroke, asthma and arthritis by a new NHS body to be proposed in the health service White Paper due to be published next week.
Ministers are planning to create a national Institute for Clinical Effectiveness with statutory backing to draw together for the first time guidelines on the best treatment and the most effective medicines.
The institute will also advise doctors to use the most cost-effective procedures for tackling illness. That could raise fears that more expensive drugs and forms of treatment will no longer be available on the NHS.
But ministers have told officials that they are not planning to introduce new forms of rationing. They have ruled out cutting treatments from the NHS, such as the insertion of grommets into children's ears, on the grounds that they are not clinically effective, or too expensive.
The aim will be to persuade doctors to prescribe more cheaply to curb the soaring pounds 5bn NHS drugs bill, and it is expected that the initiative could lead to more unbranded, generic drugs being prescribed.
Officials have advised ministers that the institute could help stroke victims by spreading the best practice in rehabilitation. The institute will also advise doctors to improve the training of asthma patients in the use of inhalers, following evidence that some sufferers are not using the equipment properly. Doctors will be advised to prevent unnecessary pain to arthritis sufferers by incorrect prescribing of drugs.
The White Paper will shift the power in the NHS from hospitals to family doctors, who will be told to join locality commissioning groups. They will order health care by commissioning it from the hospitals with money devolved from the health authorities. Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, has said he wants the White Paper to remove the "Berlin walls" between the GPs, hospitals and social services.