Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Government Medicine

A doctor from Britain writes about the effect that government agency NICE has had on the UK- and what the USA can expect if the government begins to interfere in health care there too.

As a practicing oncologist, I am forced to give patients older, cheaper medicines. The real cost of this penny-pinching is premature death for thousands of patients -- and higher overall health costs than if they had been treated properly: Sick people are expensive.

If NICE concludes that a new drug gives insufficient bang for the buck, it will not be available through our public National Health Service, which provides care for the majority of Britons.

Partly as a result of these restrictions on new medicines, British patients die earlier. In Sweden, 60.3 percent of men and 61.7 percent of women survive a cancer diagnosis. In Britain the figure ranges between 40.2 to 48.1 percent for men and 48 to 54.1 percent for women. We are stuck with Soviet-quality care, in spite of the government massively increasing health spending since 2000 to bring the United Kingdom into line with other European countries.

Government spending on the NHS has increased dramatically in the past few years but the government has singularly failed to make that spending cost-effective due to layers of bureaucracy and an obsession with monitoring government-mandated targets.

There is a good reason NICE has attracted interest from U.S. policymakers: It has proved highly effective at keeping expensive new medicines out of the state formulary. Recent research by Sweden's Karolinska Institute shows that Britain uses far fewer innovative cancer drugs than its European neighbors. Compared to France, Britain only uses a tenth of the drugs marketed in the last two years.

Modern drugs are restricted or forbidden altogether because of cost- and health professionals are essentially forced to make medical decisions based not on what is best for their patient but on what a bureaucrat says they can spend.

It's a system that is plainly killing people. A system that Democrats want to impose on America. Here's a reminder of the kind of thinking which government officials engage in when health care has to be rationed-

the chilling explanation offered by Sir Michael Rawlins, head of Britain’s National Institute of Clinical Effectiveness (NICE), for his nation’s low cancer survival rates. The British National Health Service, he is quoted as saying in the NEJM last November, has to be fair to all patients, “not just the patients with macular degeneration or breast cancer or renal cancer. If we spend a lot of money on a few patients, we have less money to spend on everyone else.”

NICE, for those of you outside of the UK, is the agency which spent £4.5 million on communications in 2007, but only £3.4 million on their main task of assessing new medicines-

The money forked out on press officers, marketing executives and consultants included £25,000 on top public relations firm Weber Shandwick to defend NICE's ban on Alzheimer's drugs.

It could have paid for 5,000 Alzheimer's sufferers to get £2.50-a-day drugs for a year. Alternatively it would have funded nearly 200 patients with advanced kidney cancer to have a drug for 12 months that would double their life expectancy.

In other words, they'd rather let people die than use their limited budget effectively on actually treating patients. With the NHS continuing to let people down, MPs collected a staggering £93 million in expenses last year and, just recently, the government announced that they wanted to charter private jets to fly the PM and Foreign Minister around the globe at staggering cost.

One has to ask how many people could have received life-saving or life-altering treatments had the government used taxpayers' money to benefit taxpayers- and not themselves.

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