Specialised services

What are specialised services?

Specialised services support people with a range of rare and complex conditions. They often involve treatments provided to patients with rare cancers, genetic disorders or complex medical or surgical conditions. They deliver cutting-edge care and are a catalyst for innovation, supporting pioneering clinical practice in the NHS. For a quick overview of specialised services watch our animation.

These services include a range of treatments, from interventions that most of us have heard of, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and kidney dialysis, through to pioneering procedures that are currently only carried out in small numbers, such as using a patient’s own tooth to restore their sight, and hand transplants. We also support trials of treatments, such as PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis, a drug to prevent HIV), and an evaluation of mitochondrial donation, a form of IVF in which the future baby’s mitochondrial DNA comes from a donor egg to avoid passing on inherited diseases.

Our pamphlet gives more information on some of the life transforming specialised services that are already being delivered.

Specialised services are not available in every local hospital because they have to be delivered by specialist teams of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who have the necessary skills and experience. Unlike most healthcare, which is planned and arranged locally, specialised services are planned nationally and regionally by NHS England.

In total, there are 146 specialised services directly commissioned by NHS England. Four factors determine whether NHS England commissions a service as a prescribed specialised service. These are:

  • The number of individuals who require the service;
  • The cost of providing the service or facility;
  • The number of people able to provide the service or facility and
  • The financial implications for Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) if they were required to arrange for provision of the service or facility themselves.

The budget for specialised services – £16.6 billion in 2017-18 – has increased more rapidly than in other parts of the NHS, but it is under pressure. The number of patients needing specialised services is rising due to an ageing population and advances in medical technology.

We have a legal duty to fund certain new medicines and devices recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), but we also make available additional funding each year for other new treatments.  For these new treatments, we have to make complex decisions about which represent the best value for patients and taxpayers. We have a duty to ensure that new treatments are supported by convincing evidence of safety and effectiveness, that they are affordable and offer value for money, and that decisions about them are fair and transparent. Doctors, other healthcare professionals, and patient and public representatives are involved at every stage of this decision-making process. For more information on how we make decisions see our infographic. Our service development policy sets out how this works in more detail.

Contact us

For any general enquiries about specialised commissioning, please email the specialised commissioning team.

If your query relates to a Clinical Reference Group, please email england.voice-crg@nhs.net.

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