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U-turn sees ban lifted on reporting of NHS drugs decisions

DISCUSSIONS about potential new drugs for NHS patients have been held in public for the first time, despite a last-minute attempt to vet reporting.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) described opening the doors on their monthly deliberations in Glasgow yesterday as a demonstration of openness and transparency.

But guidelines issued less than 24 hours earlier had banned onlookers from directly or indirectly quoting anyone present without their clear permission.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw warned of frogmarching people through an "SMC censorship committee".

Professor Jonathan Fox, SMC chairman, started proceedings with a policy U-turn. A statement issued later said: "The chair of the SMC today made members of the committee aware that this is a public meeting and everything said by members can be quoted publicly after the meeting.

"Although the current guidance we've issued discourages this, it is impossible and inappropriate for us to tell attendees not to quote directly from the meeting. We will amend the guidance shortly."

The SMC agreed to hold public meetings after this was recommended by a Scottish Government review probing criticisms about access to new medicines.

Under the new regime, 20 spaces have been made for the public at the monthly meetings and people have to register in advance to attend. Documents summing up the information about the drugs being discussed are available on the day, but cannot be taken out of the meeting room.

Members vote on whether drugs should be accepted through a secret ballot and the final decision is made in four weeks - a time frame that may be shortened in future.

Among those present was campaigner Ali Stunt, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She said: "It is a really positive move to allow the public in because it is something that is going to help take away some of the mystique"

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