NEWS FLASH: Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol would help tackle Britain’s drink problem, health advisers are expected to recommend. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) will include the advice in its guidance on how to crack down on problem drinking. (1 June 2010)
This commentary is not on whether to set a minimum price for alcohol. This is a comment about expansion of the scope of NICE’s mandate.
What is NICE for and why are they now becoming involved in more fundamental health policy matters? Under the rubric of health excellence, one assumes they are pushing this as far as they can possibly go.
NICE is really a disguised authoritarian advisory body because of their lack of proper public accountability coupled with their privileged access to ministers in government.
NICE are not ‘health advisors’; they are a fourth hurdle advisory body with a focus on what works in healthcare service delivery, such as medicines and device technologies. By moving outside this, they are creating the impression that any area of health interest can be subjected to their methodologies. Indeed, that all matters of policy can be reduced to a QALY analysis and some economic modelling. No doubt at some point, they will pass judgement on the health impact of the national speed limit, the salt content of food, the pub opening hours, as long as there is some way to tie the analysis to a health outcome. Invoking their brand of technocratic thinking to replace the fine art of public consultation is hardly the way ahead — that there is some evidence for the benefits or costs, does not lead inexorably to the conclusion that health policy should change. Running health policy by the numbers in this way guts the democratic process for deciding social priorities.
This all-purpose extension of the mandate of NICE is not a good thing, for democracy or for health policy in the UK.