The BMA says the announcement on co-payments offers a practical way of balancing the rights of individual patients with the values of fairness and equality on which the NHS is based. However, the BMA is still calling for a wider public debate about the scope of a publicly funded healthcare system.
Commenting on the report, Improving access to medicines for NHS patients, Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, says:
"It was morally wrong that people who self-funded part of their treatment were denied their right to free NHS care and I have great sympathy for the patients and their families who find themselves facing these terrible dilemmas.
"The key challenge was always going to be to avoid the creation of a two-tier system where some NHS patients receive inferior treatment to others because they cannot afford to 'top-up'. Today's announcement is sensible and outlines useful measures to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
"The clarity that 'top-up' treatments will ideally need to be properly costed, provided privately and separately from NHS care, and that they will not involve NHS staff, is welcome.
"In reality, however, this whole debate is part of a much wider one about the future of healthcare provision in England. As new, expensive drugs become available, and the population ages, it is increasingly important that society recognises that there are very real limits to what the NHS can and cannot do. The public, politicians and the medical profession must be fully involved in these discussions.
"The proposals to accelerate the approval of new treatments, and to consider new ways of working with drug companies are positive. While the work of NICE is essential, its decisions need to be quicker and more transparent so that the public and the profession can have confidence in them."