September 19, 2008

Making Incredibly Difficult Decisions

Why aren't drugs which could save or prolong the lives of cancer sufferers not being licensed for NHS use?

That was the tough question being faced yesterday by NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, at a special meeting in Plymouth, writes Sophie Roberts.

Local people had the chance to hear about latest developments and quiz health bosses during an hour-long public question time.

The audience included people with terminal illnesses and their partners, as well as GPs and other health professionals.

NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon told The Herald how hard it was to judge the benefits of drugs when the life-span of the patient could be unpredictable.

Although a particular drug might be having excellent results on one individual, it did not mean that it would have similar effects on other people with the same cancer, he said.

While he couldn't comment on the case of Roger Grace, he revealed to readers of The Herald the agonising questions NICE experts have to ask themselves.

They include "if we say yes to one drug, is it fair towards other decisions we have to be making?" and "are the benefits worth it?"

He also highlighted the problem of the prices charged by drug manufacturers.

Mr Dillon said the NHS had a limited ability to haggle because the UK accounted for only three per cent of the worldwide drugs market.

Asked why some cancer drugs were available over the counter in Turkey pounds900 cheaper than the price paid by the NHS, he said international companies reduced prices to poorer countries rather than miss out completely on sales.

(c) 2008 Plymouth Evening Herald, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.