Lead author of the BMJ article, Dr Ross Camidge, Clinical Lecturer in Cancer Therapeutics at The University of Edinburgh, explains: "If someone had a disease that they would eventually die from and a new treatment could prolong their life by a few months, should the value of that treatment be considered the same regardless of whether the individual had six months or six years left to live without it?
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in England and Wales, and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), make recommendations about which new treatments should be made available to patients on the NHS. Similar bodies also exist in other countries to try to make the best use of available healthcare resources. Recommendations all focus on how effective any new treatment is compared to the existing standard of care and on its value-for-money. Currently, none of these organisations adjust their value-for-money assessments by how long patients with a particular condition would live on average without the treatment under consideration.
Dr Camidge says: "Many medical conditions shorten life to a greater or lesser extent. If an expensive new treatment makes terminal cancer patients live three months longer then it seems intuitively unfair that this should be ascribed the same low value-for-money rating - and potentially not be funded as a treatment that gives three months to those with, for example, diabetes or high cholesterol, when these patients may live for decades with standard care."
Contact: Linda Menzies
University of Edinburgh