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NHS drug decisions 'flawed'

25th January 2013

The government’s drugs watchdog has hit back at criticism by European researchers over the system it utilises to recommend which medicines should be funded for NHS use.

PillPacket1A study, funded by the European Commission, said the system applied by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was flawed and should be scrapped.

NICE, however, responded by saying the measure it uses for assessing the value of new drug treatments in England and Wales – quality-adjusted life years (QALY) - was the best available at present and branded the study "limited".

Effectively, if a treatment costs more than £20,000-30,000 per QALY, NICE would not recommended it as cost-effective for NHS use.

The findings of the study by the European Consortium in Healthcare Outcomes (ECHOUTCOME) will be presented at a conference in Brussels and follows analysis of a detailed questionnaire with more than 1,300 respondents, including 301 in the UK.

It criticises the QALY system for grading different states of health and found people’s willingness to sacrifice remaining years of life in order to have better health varied enormously over different periods of time.

Some 71% would prefer to live 15 years in a wheelchair than die after 10 or five years in a wheelchair, but the remaining 29% said they would prefer to die earlier rather than spend 15 years in a wheelchair.

French doctor and economist Ariel Beresniak, who led the study, said: “This isn’t a scientific way to classify and prioritise the drugs - mathematically, it’s flawed.”

He has called for a wider debate on the subject.

 

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