The Conservatives have vowed to cut the time spent by the official medicines watchdog on approving new NHS drugs from an average of 18 months to as few as three.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said a Tory government would revamp the way the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) operated.
The party said time could be reduced by shifting the burden of proof of a new drug’s effectiveness from NICE to the manufacturer, and cutting out the need for a minister to approve the medicine.
NICE would also be allowed to take into account the wider social cost of denying a drug to patients when assessing its value or benefit.
Mr Lansley said: “Patients in the NHS in Britain get slower access to new medicines than any other major European country.
“Too often the NHS treats NICE as an excuse for delay. We have to move to a system where NICE facilitates access to the best care at the earliest possible time.”
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