THE controversial drug watchdog Nice has promised to heed North-East research which suggests that the public wants the NHS to spend more on life-saving medication, including cancer drugs.

In the past few years, the independent watchdog, which vets the cost-effectiveness of new drugs on behalf of the NHS, has come in for criticism.

A number of charities and patient groups have complained that the formula used by Nice to calculate the costeffectiveness of new drugs – particularly for cancer – has resulted in many expensive drugs being unavailable from the NHS.

In the North-East and North Yorkshire, this has resulted in a number of highprofile cases in which cancer patients have had to fight to get access to expensive drugs, which are usually available in western Europe.

Nice will only approve drugs up to a maximum value of £30,000 a year if they can be shown to extend life for at least a year.

Research by Newcastle University academics, headed by Professor Cam Donaldson, shows that the public wants Nice to raise the threshold for new, life-extending drugs to between £35,000 and £70,000-ayear.

The research, published in the journal Health Economics, is already influencing Nice’s drug appraisal committees.

In February, the issue of whether the value of a QALY (quality adjusted life year) should be increased will be discussed by a panel of Nice experts.

Prof Donaldson, director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, said: “What we are saying is that Nice should take more account of the public’s preference.

“Our work would indicate that the public would like to see a higher threshold.”

But Prof Donaldson warned that, given the current economic situation the NHS had to be more efficient.

He said: “The NHS has to get smarter and eliminate things that do not provide a lot of benefit for the resources invested. Otherwise, we are going to have to put more of our tax pounds in the Health Service.”

The Newcastle investigators interviewed more than 1,000 people around the country.

The same team of academics have been commissioned to conduct a similar survey of opinion in ten European countries.

The research into public opinions in England was commissioned by Nice.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, has notified the organisers of the Priorities 2008 conference at the Sage in Gateshead that he will not be able to attend.

Instead, Nice’s medical director Professor Peter Littlejohns is expected to give a speech at next week’s event.