National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence — Question
3:30 pm

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Lord Naseby (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what, if any, changes there will be in the procedures of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as a result of the recent life sciences Statement.

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government's Statement on the life sciences set out a range of actions to support the adoption and diffusion of innovation in the NHS. This includes a commitment to establish, through the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an advice service to support medical technology companies in demonstrating the value of their products, and measures to improve NHS compliance with NICE guidance. It is for NICE to consider any changes to its procedures as a result.

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Lord Naseby (Conservative)

Is my noble friend aware how welcome the Statement on life sciences was both to patients who suffer from chronic diseases and indeed to the pharmaceutical industry? However, that welcome is tempered by the statement that my noble friend has just made, because, quite frankly, NICE is and has been a dead hand on development for many medicines. I note that the current chairman has been in position for 12 years, and is scheduled to stay for another two, while the chief executive has been there for 12 years, and is scheduled for an unlimited term beyond that. Many charities have commented on NICE, and I will quote briefly from Sarcoma UK: "In the UK the delays caused by NICE can add years to introduction and mean patients die waiting". Against that background, will my noble friend ensure that NICE has a new, younger and more modern management?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, I need to put on record that I have every confidence in the senior leadership of NICE. The current chair and chief executive have overseen NICE's development into an organisation of global repute that provides robust, independent guidance on a range of issues. Continuity of leadership can be a very good thing, and I believe that it is in this case, where the leadership is of the highest calibre. I would also say that significant improvements have been made to the timeliness of NICE appraisal guidance on new drugs. NICE is now able to issue draft or final guidance for a significant majority of the drugs that it appraises within six months of a drug being licensed. That is extremely good, considering the complexity of some of these assessments.

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Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Statement by the Government last week on life sciences is one of the most welcome Statements relating to the life sciences that we have heard in this Chamber for many years? NICE has had a very proud record. It is required not only to assess the value and importance in medicine of drugs and new procedures but to consider their cost effectiveness. While there are certain situations in which it can rightly be criticised, it has made an immense contribution to the development of new procedures and the introduction of new drugs in the NHS. It is actually envied in other countries, not least in the United States, which wishes that it had a similar mechanism.

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord, who puts the case very well. That is why NICE will be at the heart of our work to improve quality in the NHS. We are re-establishing it, as the noble Lord knows, in the Health and Social Care Bill, extending its role to social care and embedding the role of NICE quality standards in statute. Of course, it will still be there to provide independent advice to support clinicians in the way that we know it has over the last few years.

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the White Paper talks about establishing a NICE implementation collaborative. Could the Minister explain to the House precisely what is meant by this?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, the NICE implementation collaborative is a collaboration between NICE and representatives or stakeholder groups, including the chief pharmaceutical officer, the main industry bodies, the NHS Confederation, the Clinical Commissioning Coalition, the Royal Colleges and, if Parliament approves, the NHS Commissioning Board. The idea is that its members are going to work together to identify where support is needed and to identify solutions for the NHS through the development of implementation guidance-in other words, to improve the uptake of new and innovative technologies in the NHS.

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Baroness Thornton (Labour)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has never really liked NICE very much, so I am not surprised at his Question. A lot of the work of NICE is not about approving new medicines but about care pathways. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, to look at its last 10 press releases; they are all about how you treat COPD or HIV, the care pathways for people with mental illness and so on. Will the Minister confirm that NICE's guidelines on care pathways will have the same effect under the new architecture as they have today?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, our expectation is that the NHS will continue to use NICE clinical guidelines to inform local improvement activity. These guidelines are tremendously valued and very authoritative. The noble Baroness is quite right: they have the potential to make a big impact on the quality of care and to add value.

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Baroness Masham of Ilton (Crossbench)

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Statement was very encouraging? Will it keep pharmaceuticals and more research here in the UK? That would be welcome.

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, part of the objective of the growth strategy is to break down some of the barriers that undoubtedly exist to pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical trials in this country. There have been unwelcome delays in the system and we are putting in place several measures to get rid of them, which in turn should encourage pharmaceutical companies to view the UK as the platform of choice for clinical research.