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NICE appraisals process to become more ‘political’ after industry pressure

Exclusive: The Department of Health has bowed to industry pressure to make the NICE appraisal process more 'politically accountable' and is set to remove the institute's power to appoint its own appeal committee and hand it to ministers.

Pulse has learnt that the Department of Health is set to table secondary legislation under the Health and Social Care Act so that the health secretary will personally approve all appointments to the panel of experts that consider appeals from drugs companies against NICE appraisals of drugs.

The chair of the appraisal appeal panel will also have to be ‘someone from outside NICE'.

The move comes after the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry wrote to the health secretary in June urging him to revamp the appraisal procedure so independent academics had less say.

Seen by Pulse, the APBI letter reads: ‘Policy is made a long way from political accountability and the NICE Executive appears to have no remit or desire to challenge the decisions of independent academics.'

‘The burden of proof is currently absolutely on industry and academic purity can override pragmatism.'

A DH spokesperson confirmed that there will be changes to the composition of appeals panels ‘to give stakeholders more confidence in its independence'.

He said: ‘First, the chair and majority of members of an appeal panel will be appointed from outside NICE. This is a change from the current arrangements where the panel is chaired by a NICE non-executive director.

‘Second, appeal panel appointments will in future need to be agreed by the secretary of state.'

However, there are no plans to broaden the grounds for NICE appraisal appeals, the spokesperson added.

The move comes after health secretary Andrew Lansley revealed NICE would no longer have the power to make ‘yes' or ‘no' decisions on access to drugs from 2014, with the Department of Health setting the maximum price the NHS will pay for new medicines.

Sir Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of NICE, said:‘These changes, which we are aware of, underline the independence of the existing appeal process and will enable NICE to draw on a larger pool of qualified and experienced panel members.'

But Dr David Jenner, GMS/PMS contract lead at the NHS Alliance and a GP in Cullompton, Devon said: ‘If they are political appointees that risks NICE being seen as an agent of Government.'