Nice hires WS for legal battle

The government’s health watchdog has called in agency support as it faces a legal challenge on its controversial decision to deprive 100,000 Alzheimer’s sufferers of a drug costing £2.50 a day.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has handed the brief to Weber Shandwick. The agency is supplying internal, external and litigation communications as media ­interest in the High Court challenge crescendos.

In the first-ever High Court challenge of its kind, a judge was this week urged to force Nice to reconsider its block on the drugs for those newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The case has been brought by pharmaceutical firms Eisai and Pfizer and is backed by the Alzheimer’s Society. If successful, the case could ­precipitate a flood of legal ­actions from patients refused drugs on the NHS by Nice.

The policy has been in place for nearly two years, but this week’s hearing has shone the media spotlight on it.

An Alzheimer’s Society spokeswoman said: ‘We are challenging the legality of how the decision was made. If we are successful, the ruling will have wider implications for the patient lobby, putting more power in its hands. It will also have implications on how Nice makes decisions, making the process more transparent.’

A judgement is expected in two weeks. A spokesman for Nice denied that a ruling against it would damage the body: ‘A negative ruling will not create any wide-ranging precedent,’ he said.

Weber Shandwick chairman of public affairs and head of legal PR Jon McLeod is leading the account, working with the agency’s head of healthcare public affairs Tamora Langley.

The Alzheimer’s Society has been putting forward people suffering from Alz­heimer’s and their carers as media volunteers throughout its campaign against Nice.

Just under 100,000, mostly elderly, people develop Alzheimer’s every year. There is no cure for it, but treatments alleviate some of the symptoms.

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