The chief executive of the UK’s health watchdog has hit back at claims from the Conservative Party that it spends more on “spin doctors” than evaluating the cost-effectiveness of new therapies.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, was responding to comments made by the Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds who claimed that money was being wasted on spin doctors. The MP’s argument is based on his interpretation of figures published in the organisation’s 2007/08 annual report.

Mr Simmonds said the figures show that NICE spent almost £3.4 million, or around 10% of its budget, evaluating new drugs and technologies last year. However he claims that some £4.5 million, or 13%, was spent on communications.

He was quoted in The Telegraph as saying that “unfortunately, these figures typify New Labour's approach to our health service”. He added that “thousands of patients across the country who are still waiting for NICE to evaluate these new medicines will rightly be asking why Labour insists on spending more on spin than on speeding up people's access to life-saving new drugs”.

Mr Simmonds concluded by saying that “while we are strong supporters of NICE, it needs to work to ensure that its resources are used effectively in order that patients get the best service possible”. However, Mr Dillon responded quickly to the claims.

In an emailed statement to PharmaTimes, Mr Dillon said the Shadow Health Minister “is wrong to assert that NICE spends more on ‘spin doctors’ than on evaluating new drugs”. He added that “the money we spend on communications covers all the elements that go into producing NICE guidance and making it available to healthcare professionals working in the National Health Service, those working in the wider public health field and the public”.

Mr Dillon went on to note that the actual cost of assessing new drugs for the NHS includes the money, spent on NICE's behalf, by the R&D section of the Department of Health. “When you add them together, the total cost of the NICE technology appraisal programme far outstrips the cost of NICE communications,” he noted.

“In fact”, Mr Dillon concluded, “the press and public affairs function at NICE is a small proportion of the communications budget and accounts for just 0.6% of our total budget”. He continued: “In the interests of what patients need, let's try and keep the debate on what NICE does, and how we go about our work, serious and sensible.“