Drugs costing just eight pence a day could be denied to NHS patients under “devastating” new rationing plans, charities have warned.
Under the plans, health officials will be able to delay introducing life-extending treatments for up to three years, after they have been found to be effective.
The cap is likely to affect one in five new treatments, with cheap drugs which could help large numbers of patients affected, as well as high cost drugs.
Under the new rules, any medications likely to cost the health service more than £20m a year will be subject to a new tier of bureaucracy.
At present, the NHS has 90 days to make drugs available to patients, once they have been given the green light by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
The new system will allow health officials an extra three years to introduce drugs, during which time they will try to negotiate cost reductions.
Last night charities accusing the Government of abandoning a manifesto pledge to speed up access to drugs, which could leave patients to die while vital treatment was kept out of reach.
Seven treatments authorised in the last two years for more than 250,000 patients would have been hit by the cap, analysis shows.
They include a heart disease drug for 160,000 patients, with a monthly cost of just £27 a month, and a treatment for prostate cancer, which received the go-ahead from Nice last year after a three year battle.
Sightloss drugs with an annual NHS cost of £22m and a £90 a month treatment for chronic heart failure. recommended for more 65,000 patients would also fall foul of the new restrictions.
The Alzheimer’s Society last night expressed horror at the new plans, warning that such changes could be devastating for future dementia treatments.
If a drug were to be discovered that could help all 680,000 people with dementia in England, it would have to cost less than £30 a year - 8 pence a day - to fall under the cap, the charity said.
Cancer Research UK said the plans were “unacceptable” and could cost lives.
Sarah Woolnough, the charity’s executive director of policy and information, said: "If Nice thinks a cancer treatment is clinically effective and represents value for money, then patients should receive it without delay.
"A system that could add up to a three-year delay before patients can access treatments deemed clinically and cost effective is unacceptable,” she said.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said the changes could have a “devastating” impact on patients, adding to existing delays accessing drugs.
In the last decade, Nice has only approved three out of 13 treatments for breast cancer.
“This proposal could be a significant, additional barrier in getting new and effective treatments to those patients who so desperately need them, including patients living with incurable breast cancer who are relying on access to new drugs to give them additional, quality time with their loved ones.”
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, said the changes agreed by Nice’s board yesterday were “scandalous” and a breach of a manifesto pledge to increase the use of cost-effective new medicines.
“It’s truly disgraceful that this Government is prepared to deprive sick patients of the life-saving treatment they require because of their refusal to properly fund our NHS,” he said.
Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said:"Thousands of patients will wait longer for treatment for conditions like heart disease, cancers and diabetes while medicines which stand to benefit the most people are caught up in the system.
"Use of new medicines in the UK is already poor with patients seven times more likely to get a newly launched medicine in places like Germany or France."
Sir Andrew Dillon, Nice chief executive, said: "We hope, and we think it is perfectly possible, that for some treatments which exceed the £20m budget impact in their first three years, there will be commercial agreements between companies and NHS England which will at least minimise and in some cases avoid completely the need for any delay for access for patients.”
NHS England had committed to ensuring some patients received the drugs during a “phased implementation period” when there were delays, he said.
NHS England's acting director for specialised commissioning, John Stewart, said it was "committed to working closely with companies that are willing to price their products responsibly".
He said the "new flexibility will help us develop innovative win/win/win agreements – good for patients, good for taxpayers and good for those companies that are willing to price responsibly."
Other changes agreed by the Nice board will see the introduction of a new fast-track option for treatments which cost under £10,000 per year of good quality of life to patients.Such treatments will be appraised within six months, instead of nine.