NICE says no to elderly discrimination

NICE rejects the government’s plans to link drug funding to societal benefit amid fears of discrimination.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has refused to adopt government plans to fund drugs based on a ‘benefit to society’ assessment, fearing discrimination against the elderly.

The government had called on NICE to review its assessment criteria in a bid to ensure the decision to fund a drug was linked to the projected benefit to society, including such factors as whether a patient would be able to return to work.  

Following its review, NICE rejected the proposals, with the head saying his organisation was not “comfortable” with an assessment system that could translate into discrimination against certain members of society, particularly the elderly.

Speaking to The Times newspaper, Sir Andrew Dillon, NICE head, said: “This wider societal impact is such a sensitive issue. You can do it in a hard-nosed economic way, which is the department’s calculation, but our sense is that the wider public see wider societal impact as being more subtle than that.”

He said the drugs approval body was concerned that such an approach to assessment and funding would “send out the message that we value life less when you’re 70 than we do when you’re 20.”

Sir Dillon, speaking on behalf of NICE, instead proposed a ‘societal benefit’ assessment system more closely aligned to the current one of approving drugs if they cost less than £20,000 and give a patient a year of good quality life.

The Department of Health justified its proposed assessment changes as a means “to make sure we get the best possible results for all NHS patients with the resources we have” but did acknowledge it was “an important and complex issue”, encouraging NICE to ‘consult widely’ before coming to any conclusions.

Ministers have insisted they would intervene to ensure there is no discrimination against the elderly in relation to medicine funding.