Last week, the drugs regulatory body and tabloid scapegoat NICE decided not to allow funding for the bowel cancer drug Avastin on the grounds that spending £21,000 per patient to extend their life by, on average, six weeks was not an effective use of NHS funds (Ben Goldacre has a brilliant column on the media scrum surrounding this decision). It’s a difficult choice, and it must be devastating news for families of bowel cancer sufferers, but on balance, it’s hard to justify that kind of spending for an extra six weeks of life when that money could provide far more cost-effective treatments to other patients.
Today the Mail and The Telegraph launch a particularly pathetic attempt at a smear on NICE. NICE blows £500,000 on office revamp a week after rejecting bowel cancer wonder drug Avastin screams the Mail. Nice splashes out on 160 new staff and plasma TVs after blocking cancer drug, yells the Telegraph.
The amount spent on refurbishment – including an extended boardroom and the installation of plasma TVs – could pay for a month’s Avastin for 240 people.
Except it couldn’t. NICE isn’t responsible for NHS drugs spending at all. The £500,000 spent on renovating their offices didn’t come out of the same pot that cancer drugs come from, it came from NICE’s budget.
Secondly of course, before hiring more staff, NICE will have done the maths and worked out whether or not it was cost effective. If hiring 160 people improves service to patients – say, by letting NICE provide faster decisions on drugs – then that’s a long term cost effectiveness that simply sinking the money in marginally effective drugs won’t give you.
In fact, if you read to the bottom of the article, the chief executive of NICE explains:
NICE’s chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said the expansion was needed because it now had a much bigger job, including giving advice to GPs and hospital doctors.
He said: ‘A wider remit means more staff, which will obviously lead to a need for more space. With this in mind it is essential that our offices are adequate for our needs.
So the funding is a) justified, b) improves patient care and c) doesn’t come out of the cancer drugs pot. That The Mail and The Telegraph would criticize NICE even for trying to give doctors better advice (The Mail in particular is so desperate to attack NICE that they even quote “Professor” Karol Sikora, a man the Mail itself savaged just two months ago) shows just how low these attacks on an easy, vital target have become.