The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) makes the Daily Mail today, in a “scandal” over wasted money. Trigger words and phrases are used to elicit the Pavlovian response sought by their readership: shopping sprees, luxury, splurges, and high life. After reading the article, and assuming you are educationally-challenged enough to take the Daily Mail at face value, you might get the impression that the staff were drinking at champagne bars, shopping at John Lewis, and enjoying expensive hotel visits on behalf of the tax payer. Given NICE’s “evil” role in ruling on NHS use of new anti-cancer drugs, a favourite subject of the Mail, this is a perfect story.
Evil state employees of the NHS using taxpayers money while they deny treatment to cancer victims.
Readers are outraged. One of the top reader comments:
“What an utter disgrace. Thousands of people die yearly following being denied life saving drugs, and these disgusting pigs are living the highlife on NHS funding. I wonder how many people could have had their live prolonged while these ” people” we’re sipping champagne. Disgusting.”
Leaving aside the point that many of the drugs NICE turn down only give very marginal gains against cancer (and are rarely life-saving), how true are the Mail’s claims about NICE?
Not very. NICE has robustly responded. Here are some selections of the items the Mail placed in a “Table of Shame”, along with the NICE explanation. Bold is Mail, Italic is NICE response, and my comments are in the square brackets.
£1,147 at John Lewis
Mobile devices used by the website development team.[Given the importance of ensuring NICE material is usable on mobile devices which healthcare staff are increasingly using to find information this is fair enough. This indirectly impacts on NHS patient safety. Don’t the Mail want best evidence being used by the NHS?]
£3,346 at Searcy’s, which has several champagne bars across London.
The money was not spent on champagne. Searcy’s hires out venues and manages room hire at the Royal College of GPs and Commonwealth Club where NICE has held some advisory committee meetings. [How do the Mail want NICE to operate? Hold meetings in Starbucks or a local park?]
£624 on a website for home and garden equipment
Office storage cupboards. [Oh my God! Cupboards. For storage.]
£3,800 on camcorders
The expenditure was for video equipment used for training and other media related work. [Again vital equipment for spreading good practice in the modern world. The Mail would prefer NICE stuck to mailing paper?]
There’s other guff from the Mail about “luxury hotels”, but there is no context about how many people stayed in them and the importance of the work NICE were doing. Don’t the Mail want NICE employees to stay up to date with conferences, or, as a world leading organisation, spread their expertise at conferences?
Sadly a patient group, the Taxpayers’ Alliance (Well, knock me over with a rolled up copy of the Daily Mail) and a Tory MP called Charlotte Leslie jump in with both feet, with corkers like this one from Robert Oxley.
‘The contrast of people dying of thirst on wards while officials blow taxpayers’ money at a champagne bar could not be more striking. The NHS should cut out waste, axe this quango and focus budgets on patient care.’
The absurdity of the Taxpayers’ Alliance there, arguing for the abolition of an organisation that is making healthcare more cost effective. He should be fully behind NICE if he cared about taxpayers’ money, not knocking it on the basis of a imaginary scandal dreamt up in the offices of the Daily Mail. This story didn’t need to be written, the Mail could have had the correct information from NICE. Anyone would think they had an axe to grind.
Conflict of Interest statement. I do not work for NICE, but did attend a day conference run by NICE in 2012 on Evidence Based Medicine teaching. There was no champagne.