TV film on NICE 'not quite fair' to pharma

Senior healthcare PROs have criticised the representation of the pharmaceutical industry in a TV documentary that discussed how new drugs are approved for the NHS.

Julia Harries: Red Door director of client strategy
Julia Harries: Red Door director of client strategy

The Price of Life allowed TV cameras behind the scenes to find out how the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) makes decisions about which treatments should be funded by the NHS.

But after the screening on BBC2 last week, healthcare communicators voiced their disappointment at the portrayal of the pharma industry.

Axon managing partner Ralph Sutton  said: ‘The documentary failed to show how the industry invests in education and patient  support. Drug companies need to do a better job in  communicating price. They don’t get excessive returns and they fund a lot of other things.’

Red Door Communications director of client strategy Julia Harries said: ‘The programme also didn’t mention the broader context of how these drugs come to market. Millions of pounds are spent on compounds that don’t ever make it. The perspective in the programme was not quite fair.’

However, PR professionals said NICE made the right decision to allow the cameras to film the process. The aim of the documentary was to dispel misconceptions around the processes involved in assessing a new drug, and to combat the negative press NICE receives each time it rejects a treatment.

NICE acting associate director for external comms Phil Ranson said: ‘The comms team was involved extensively in the process. ‘The publicity we receive about appraisals is usually when we say no to a drug. It is important that people understand the context and why we make these decisions. We have finite resources, and new drugs – some with marginal results –are expensively priced.’

Hanover director Andrew Harrison said overall the programme was balanced: ‘The programme showed it is a terribly complex and fraught process, which wasn’t a bad thing for NICE to be seen to do.’

Sutton agreed: ‘I expected they would do a hatchet job on NICE, but they didn’t.'

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