Professor Ken Paterson, consultant physician for NHS Greater Glasgow and Chairman of the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) sent summer temperatures soaring in a slightly different way recently with a claim that Scotland’s system for assessing new drugs is quicker, cheaper and altogether more efficient that its counterpart for England and Wales, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).  

Speaking at a conference on rationing within the NHS, organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Professor Paterson said that the SMC (whose assessments match those of NICE in approximately 83 per cent of cases) assesses all new drugs within 18 weeks of submission, at a cost of less that £1 million per annum. This compares with NICE’s response at around 39 weeks or more, assessing only 15-20 per cent of new drugs. NICE’s annual budget for 2009-10 will rise to around £60 million.  

Never one to shy away from controversy, Professor Paterson caused anger amongst seriously ill patients last autumn when he said that patients with cancer and other life-threatening conditions could not expect the NHS to fund new drugs, costing tens of thousands of pounds, which only prolong life by a few weeks or months – or, as he put it in slightly more incendiary terms:  

“What is not a practical option is that [these patients] should expect the rest of society to spend unlimited amounts of money on delaying their death by a short time.”  

You will recall from our February legal update that NICE has elected to adopt a far more lenient approach to the appraisal of such drugs which, unsurprisingly, is causing already hard-pressed commissioners grave concerns.