The Price of life

from The Telegraph

Hi All,

there was a TV report on BBC about the work of NICE.. it has triggerd a huge debate in the UK and throughout Europe as this documentary reached first time people who had never paid attention to NICE.. unfortunately I wasn`t able to post the video link as it seems to works only in the UK if you want to download from BBC. Below a short review from The Telgraph..

TV review: The Price of Life (BBC Two)

Andrew Pettie reviews Adam Wishart's documentary on Nice, the NHS body that decides what the health service can and can't afford, plus Sky1's new glossy drama series The Take.

Published: 6:17PM BST 17 Jun 2009

The Price of Life: ‘Is it wise to spend £30,000 to get two extra months of life for one [cancer sufferer], or to have a health visitor working with some very disadvantaged families preventing the next Baby P?” It’s a tough question. Sophia Christie, the woman asking it, is the Chief Executive of NHS Birmingham East and North. Each year she has around £630 million to spend on “birth to death universal healthcare” for 440,000 people. Her daily quandary – which treatments will prove the most cost-effective? Whose lives most deserve saving? – was the controversial nub of The Price of Life (BBC Two).

To tackle a question as complex and emotive as how the NHS should best deploy its resources, it was important the film retained an open mind and a clinical grasp of the issues at hand. At first, the signs were promising. The documentary-maker, Adam Wishart, is a science writer and film-maker with experience in this field. His father died from cancer six years ago and the book Wishart wrote about the history and science of the disease as a result, One in Three, was nominated in 2007 for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books.

What’s more, Wishart had pulled off something of a coup: his documentary was the first to gain access to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the controversial NHS rationing body known as Nice. Watching Nice at work – eavesdropping on its deliberations as a committee of doctors and lay people debated the cost and efficacy of new treatments – was fascinating. And listening to the compassionate yet clear-eyed insights of Professor David Barnett, a heart specialist and the chairman of the Nice appraisal committee, made a nonsense of the notion that Nice was little more than a panel of uncaring bureaucrats.

“If it was me, if it was my family, I’d feel the same way [as those people lobbying Nice to approve a specific drug],” said Professor Barnett. “But Nice has to stand outside that and look at everybody, not just at the individual.”

To help the committee to weigh the cost-effectiveness of expensive new treatments, Nice has put, in Wishart’s phrase, a “price on our heads”. That price is £30,000 per annum. If it costs more than £30,000 for each year a drug will add to a patient’s life (according to the available clinical projections), then Nice will not approve it to be prescribed on the NHS. This may sound callous but the committee, as Prof Barnett patiently explained, is financially compelled to see the bigger picture.

It was therefore extremely frustrating that for long periods Wishart’s film was unable to do the same. Instead of spending more time with Professor Barnett and NHS managers such as Sophia Christie, The Price of Life focused too heavily on a group of patients campaigning for Nice to approve the cancer drug Revlimid. Of course, these patients’ stories were affecting and their frustrations with Nice understandable.

But Wishart was guilty of some wishy-washy journalism in allowing the patients to voice their complaints against Nice (“They do not care. We’re just numbers to them”) without once asking them to consider the counter argument: that if Nice approved Revlimid other, perhaps equally needy areas of the NHS would necessarily go without.

At other times Wishart’s contributions were infuriatingly facile. “Surely,” he said to Prof Barnett, “decisions about life and death shouldn’t be about money.” In a world of finite resources – ie the real one – that sort of woolly platitude only confused the issue.

Thankfully, after a year of filming, Wishart had “come to realise… that if a drug costs too much money for too little benefit then the NHS must be allowed to deny it to patients.” To any intelligent viewer, though, this hard-won conclusion appeared self-evident. Despite Wishart’s courage in tackling a provocative issue, The Price of Life was primarily an opportunity missed.

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