In January 2009, Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), following a very public debate triggered by its decision, six months earlier, provisionally to rule against the adoption by the National Health Service (NHS) of an expensive drug for advanced renal cancer, introduced a new policy for evaluating pharmaceuticals for patients nearing the end of their lives. NICE's so-called end-of-life (EOL) guidance for its Committees effectively advises them to deviate from the Institute's threshold range and to value the lives of (mostly) dying cancer patients more than the lives of those suffering from other, potentially curable, chronic or acute conditions. This article tells the story of the EOL guidance. Through looking at specific EOL decisions between 2009 and 2011 and the reactions by stakeholders to these decisions and the policy itself, it discusses the triggers for NICE's EOL guidance, the challenges NICE faces in implementing it and the policy's putative implications for the future role of NICE in the NHS, especially in the context of value-based reforms in the pricing and evaluation of pharmaceuticals, currently under consideration.
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