01 November 2010
The media has reported that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is to lose its power to recommend against the use of new medicines on the NHS. Following the reports, the Department of Health has confirmed that in future NICE will give advice on which drugs are effective, but will not decide whether patients should be given treatments their doctor recommends.
Lord Howe, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, said: “NICE is recognised as an international leader in the evaluation of drugs and health technologies, and it will continue to have an important advisory role, including in assessing the incremental therapeutic benefits of new medicines. However, as we implement our plans for value-based drug pricing, its role will increasingly focus on authoritative advice to clinicians on how to deliver the most effective treatments, and on the development of quality standards.”
The change in NICE’s role may improve access to drugs which doctors believe will extend or improve the quality of their patients’ lives, but critics have warned that there could also be a return to the ‘postcode lottery’, with patients in certain areas being refused treatments that are available to those in other areas. The changes also raise a number of questions, particularly around the new system of value-based pricing and what this really means for patients, the NHS and industry. It also raises questions about the implications for the pharmaceutical industry in terms of sales and marketing, and whether the “authoritative advice” for clinicians will in fact continue to influence decisions in the same way as existing NICE guidance.
Whatever the answers to these important questions, the highly complex and emotive debate about the changing role of NICE looks set to run and run.