Disquiet over the government’s health bill came to the fore again at this week’s NICE conference, with one protestor tackling the Health Secretary over his refusal to publish the NHS risk register during his address to delegates yesterday.

As Andrew Lansley’s speech at the conference drew to a close, one aggrieved protestor – much to the surprise of a rather sedate audience - questioned the Health Secretary over his decision to keep the register under lock and key, and accused him of breaking of the law in doing so.

Outside the International  Conference Centre in Birmingham, a small group of activists had also gathered to protest against the government’s healthcare reforms and cuts to services, indicating the unpopularity of the Bill.

Protest aside, Lansley’s speech was largely focused on the importance of NICE and the importance of good evidence to improving the health system.

Interestingly, far from the more backseat role some had forecast for the Institute going forward, Lansley said NICE ” will not be any less vital in the NHS, if anything it will be more”.

The Institute, he said, will examine the cost effectiveness of medicines “but will no longer be obliged to make yes or no decisions on access”, leaving its recommendations “even more applicable across the world”.

Quality Standards "key"

What will be central to driving NHS improvements are the Institute’s Quality Standards (QS), which will be a “backbone for the new commissioning system”, Lansley said. (From April 2013, the NHS Commissioning Board will operate as an independent body overseeing a system of clinical commissioning groups.)

Currently there are 17 such QS in circulation, but the Institute has been tasked with developing 180 of them, as well as a new programme of standards in social care that will be announced in April next year.

“We need to work with NICE to help improve innovation in the NHS,” Professor Malcolm Grant, chair of the NHS Commissioning Board, told delegates, and stressed that the Institute’s advice and QS must not go unheeded.

On the hot potato that is Value Based Pricing, Lansley merely reconfirmed that its aim is to secure value for taxpayers and reward innovation at the same time.

The new pricing system will be designed to reflect the added value of medicines to society, he said, noting that negotiations on the new arrangements are set to take place sometime in the second half of the year; the rumour mill is suggesting in September.