Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Medicine and the Media

New drugs: patient hope or harm?

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 26 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1373
  1. Adrian O’Dowd, freelance journalist, Kent, UK
  1. adrianodowd{at}

Debate on whether new drugs are too expensive for the NHS continues to rage, and contradictory news stories reflect the polarisation, reports Adrian O’Dowd

Innovative drugs are either great news for patients in the NHS, offering them new hope, or a waste of resources—depending on whom you listen to.

National media coverage of new treatments certainly gives both sides of the argument. In the Times newspaper on 12 March, two stories appeared side by side with the headlines “Cutting-edge NHS drugs do more harm than good”1 and “UK behind on cancer guidelines.”2

The first story claimed that spending on new drugs was little more than a diversion of critical funds from elsewhere in the NHS, while the second argued that patients were missing out because the UK was behind other parts of Europe in recommending use of new cancer drugs.

Threshold gap

The first story looked at a current government consultation into tightening the rules on vaccines by reducing the threshold at which they are judged cost effective from the current £20 000 per quality adjusted life year (QALY) to £15 000.3

The consultation is based on the recommendations of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and its cost effectiveness methodology for immunisation programmes and procurement group. …

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