The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has not been asked to change the basis of its assessments "simply to save money," NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon has said.
Sir Andrew was responding to recent media reports claiming that the government is delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs into the NHS in order to save money. According to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) chief executive Sir Andrew Witty, a delay in the uptake of innovative new drugs is being seen across Europe as governments introduce austerity measures to cope with increasing cost pressures.
Delays in the introduction of cancer drugs into the NHS are an example of this happening in the UK, said the GSK chief executive, speaking to the BBC. "We're seeing a variety of the more innovative and, yes, more expensive medicines being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe," he said.
However, Sir Andrew Dillon points out that NICE's role is to produce evidence-based guidance on treatments and care in the NHS, and to make an assessment of whether the additional value of the technology justifies the price the NHS is being asked to pay.
"We have not been asked to change the basis of our assessments simply to save money," says Sir Andrew.
The guidance which NICE produces on which new drug technologies to recommend to the NHS is made by independent advisory committees using evidence from clinical experts, patients and carers. NICE and the Department of Health - who decides which drugs need to be appraised - have reduced the time it takes to provide evidence to the NHS, once a drug is licensed for use, says the Institute.
In 2002, there was an average gap of over four years between a drug being given marketing authorisation and NICE producing its first draft guidance, but in 2010-11, the average time was down to four months, it says.
"NICE guidance is available pretty much as soon as doctors and patients begin to consider using new drugs. We know that this is something that everyone - patients, doctors, government and the industry - wants," says Sir Andrew.
In addition, NICE has said "yes" to the majority of treatments it has assessed for availability on the NHS, with more than 80% of NICE technology appraisals having been positive since it began.
The Institute also points to initiatives introduced by the government aimed at improving innovation in the NHS, including its recent report on how innovation can be improved in healthcare. NICE says it has a key role to play here, helping to ensure that new drugs are taken up by the NHS quickly and consistently; for example, it will be helping trusts develop local formularies so that all patients in England have access to clinically and cost-effective drugs.
"Our independent advisory committees specifically look for innovation in new drugs, but it is of course the case that being 'new' is not enough," says Sir Andrew.
"A new drug has to offer more to patients than existing treatments to justify its additional cost, and we work hard to help companies understand the need to make the case for their new drugs, using the evidence," he says.
NICE and drug companies, including GSK, have come a long way in recent years in putting systems in place and creating a dialogue, and this "enables NICE to get the best possible understanding of the value that new treatments can bring, and for drug companies to understand the need for health systems like the NHS, and indeed ones around the world, to critically evaluate new treatments that are becoming available and to make sure they are making the right choices for patients," said Sir Andrew.