The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the independent agency in the UK charged, amongst other things, with assessing the cost-effectiveness of new drugs. In a report published on 19 November 2009, NICE found that the drug sorafenib, branded as Nexavar by its manufacturer, the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer AG, was not cost-effective. The drug can extend the life of terminally ill patients with liver cancer. However, it is very expensive, costing about £3000 per month per patient.
The NICE press release (see link below) quotes Andrew Dillon, the Chief Executive of NICE, as saying: “We were disappointed not to have been able to recommend the use of sorafenib, but after carefully considering all the evidence, including the proposed ‘patient access scheme’ in which the manufacturer offered to provide every fourth pack free, sorafenib does not provide enough benefit to patients to justify its high cost.”
Not surprisingly people suffering from liver cancer, and also various patient groups, were highly critical of the decision. But with a limited budget for the National Health Service and the increasing pressure to save costs in order to reduce the public-sector debt, many difficult choices like this have to be made.
What NICE attempts to do is a cost–benefit analysis of new drugs. Whilst costs can be difficult to measure, especially over the longer term, the benefits are much more problematic as they have to take into account the effects on the quality of people’s lives – something that will vary enormously from one patient to another. And then there are the effects on family and friends and on the economy. The measure used in the NHS and elswhere is the QALY – ‘quality-adjusted life year’. In paragraph 4.8 of the full NICE report (see link below), it was noted that
“the base-case ICER [incremental cost-effectiveness ratio] presented by the manufacturer was originally £64,800 per QALY gained and when the patient access scheme was included [where every fourth pack is supplied free to the NHS by Bayer] this went down to £51,900 per QALY gained. Both ICERs were substantially higher than those normally considered to be an acceptable use of NHS resources.”
2009/069 NICE appraisal of sorafenib for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma NICE press release (19/11/09)
Final appraisal determination Sorafenib for the treatment of advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (Full document) NICE (19/11/09)
NHS denies drug to cancer patients (video) ITN (on YouTube) (18/11/09)
Liver cancer drug ‘too expensive’ (including videos) BBC News (19/11/09)
UK’s NICE says Bayer liver cancer drug too costly Reuters (18/11/09)
Nice’s decision not to approve the liver cancer drug Nexavar is painful but necessary and Drug for terminal liver cancer patients ‘too expensive’Telegraph, Rebecca Smith (19/11/09)
NHS says it’s too expensive to keep you alive Telegraph, Janet Daley (19/11/09)
Bayer’s patent case hearing in HC today Tines of India (18/11/09)
- What makes the choice of whether to provide a particular drug to a pateint an ‘economic’ one?
- Imagine you were a person suffering from liver cancer. What evidence would you wish to bring to the government to persuade it to ignore NICE’s recommendation?
- Is the use of QALYs the best means of assessing the benefits of a drug? Explain.
- What are the arguments for and againist the NHS providing expensive drugs free to people on low incomes but charging a price well above the current prescription fee to those who could afford to pay? If such as scheme were introduced, on what basis should such a price be determined and should it be on a sliding scale according to people’s income and/or wealth?
Most students have a student loan: you need it to live; to buy text books; to survive. So, what do you do if your student loan hasn’t appeared in your bank account? This is a problem that many students have been facing. The Student Loans Company said that even after most courses had started, 175,358 students had still not had their loan application processed. This represented 16% of applications. There are various reasons given for this delay, but one that appears more often is the current economic downturn. This has been a crucial factor in so many students being without the necessary finance to begin university. Another reason is that many documents have been misplaced. On the other hand, a spokesman for the Student Loans Company (SLC) said that actually delays this year were no worse than in previous years, even though this is the first year when students applied directly to the SLC. Does this suggest that actually the whole system of student loans is still inefficient and needs to be overhauled again? Is there a better method?
In order to help students, many universities have made emergency payments to those without their loans. What’s the opportunity cost of this money? Surely it could be used for other purposes. Universities have seen their highest ever number of applications, although there has been a drop in Scottish student numbers and there are suggestions that tuition fees will increase again. What are the implications of the problems with student loans and the massive increase in university applications?
Minister ‘sorry’ for student loan delays ePolitiX (15/10/09)
140,000 miss university places The Press Association (17/10/09)
Student loan firm explains delays BBC News (12/10/09)
Student loan delay hits 175,000 students Telegraph, Graeme Paton (9/10/09)
Enquiry to be held over late payments of student loans Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (13/10/09)
Watchdog fears over poor students BBC News (29/9/09)
Student tuition fees could increase Telegraph, Graeme Patton (14/10/09)
Student debt to soar Daily Express, Alison Little (14/10/09)
- Why has the recession had an impact on university applications?
- Should universities be able to set their own fees? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a system? How could fees be determined?
- Primary and Secondary education is a merit good and free in the UK. What do we mean by a merit good and how can we illustrate the positive externalities associated with education? Why is higher education not free to the student? Aren’t there positive externalities associated with it?
- If tuition fees increase, student debt levels after graduation will be higher. What is the likely impact of this on the students themselves and on the economy?
- What the likely consequences for (a) students (b) universities of the delays in student loans?
In the article below, Ashley Seager from the Guardian argues that the government is doing little to encourage the take-up and adoption of alternative forms of energy generation for households. Indeed he argues hat the situation has got worse and not better in recent months with changes in the system. Only 270 houses were helped with the fitting of photovoltaic systems last year. In Germany the equivalent figure was 130,000.
Reasons to see red over green energy Guardian (18/2/08)
||Assess the external costs and external benefits resulting from installing a photovoltaic electricity generation system on a house.
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show how the installation of photovoltaic cells on houses will alter the socially optimal market equilibrium.
||Evaluate two policies that the government could use to encourage the more widespread adoption of alternative methods of generating power.