Daily Express (KC) 10-Sep-08

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By Martyn Brown

THE nation’s drugs watchdog spends more on spin doctors than assessing new life-saving medicines, the Tories claim.

In the last year the National Institute for Clinical Excellence spent 10 per cent of its budget – £3.4million – evaluating drugs but £4.5million on communications.

Yet it refused to approve medicine for the NHS that could extend the lives of kidney cancer patients or a £2 pill for Alzheimer’s sufferers. They were “too costly.”

NICE claims offering patients expensive and potentially ineffective drugs would take away treatments from patients with less high-profile conditions.

The Conservative Party attacked the Government- backed body for spending more on its communications department than on speeding up people’s access to the new life-saving treatments.

Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds said: “These figures typify New Labour’s approach to our health service.

“First we discovered that spending on NHS bureaucrats had increased twice as fast as spending on nurses. Now we see the body which evaluates drugs spends more money on spin doctors than on assessing new medicines. “Thousands of patients waiting for NICE to evaluate these new medicines will rightly be asking why Labour insists on spending more on spin than speeding up access to new life-saving drugs.

“While we are strong supporters of NICE, it needs to ensure that its resources are used effectively so that patients get the best service possible.”

The financial details were revealed in NICE’s annual report for 2007-8.

Geoff Martin, of the patients’ pressure group Health Emergency, said: “Spending millions on communications while denying patients potentially life-saving drugs is outrageous.”

The watchdog disputed the suggestion that it was concerned with spin.

It said the press and public affairs function at NICE took only “a small proportion of the communications budget”.

The cash spent on communications included the production and distribution of clinical guidance for doctors and nurses as well as patient information.

It was also spent on making the guides user-friendly for use on the NICE website.

Chief executive Andrew Dillon said: “Simmonds is wrong to assert that we spend more on spin doctors than we do on evaluating new drugs.

“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 NHS, those working in the wider public health field and the public.

“The cost of assessing new drugs for the NHS includes the money spent on NICE’s behalf by the Department of Health.

“When you add them together, the total cost of the NICE technology appraisal programme far outstrips the cost of communications.

“In fact the press and public affairs function at NICE is a small proportion of the communications budget and accounts for just 0.6 per cent of it.

“In the interests of what patients need, let’s try to keep the debate on what NICE does and how we go about our work, serious and sensible.”

NICE bosses have come under fire recently over its decisions on drugs for use on the NHS.

Last month it caused controversy by rejecting four drugs for kidney cancer.

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