Still Elegantly Muddling Through? NICE and Uncertainty in Decision Making About the Rationing of Expensive Medicines in England.

Research paper by Michael M Calnan, Ferhana F Hashem, Patrick P Brown

Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 25 Jan '17Published in: International journal of health services : planning, administration, evaluation


This article examines the "technological appraisals" carried out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as it regulates the provision of expensive new drugs within the English National Health Service on cost-effectiveness grounds. Ostensibly this is a highly rational process by which the regulatory mechanisms absorb uncertainty, but in practice, decision making remains highly complex and uncertain. This article draws on ethnographic data-interviews with a range of stakeholders and decision makers (n = 41), observations of public and closed appraisal meetings, and documentary analysis-regarding the decision-making processes involving three pharmaceutical products. The study explores the various ways in which different forms of uncertainty are perceived and tackled within these Single Technology Appraisals. Difficulties of dealing with the various levels of uncertainty were manifest and often rendered straightforward decision making problematic. Uncertainties associated with epistemology, procedures, interpersonal relations, and technicality were particularly evident. The need to exercise discretion within a more formal institutional framework shaped a pragmatic combining of strategies tactics-explicit and informal, collective and individual-to navigate through the layers of complexity and uncertainty in making decisions.