Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Should we ever refuse treatment for Cancer Patients?

A reader asked a question about cost effectiveness and cost utility analysis. It sounded very boring, but, actually leads to some interesting dilemmas.

This is an issue that is likely to pit public opinion against the advice of an Economist.

Compare 2 potential responses to a decision to not give treatment for terminally ill cancer sufferers.

"There is a new drug that can prolong the lifespan of young cancer sufferers. Yet, government economists have sought to block the treatment on ground that it doesn't conform to some hypothetical cost utility analysis. Don't let heartless bureaucrats sign the death warrant of cancer sufferers. Treatment should be available to All - Write to Your MP now."

The NHS has limited resources, each year, the NHS receives over £70 billion. Therefore, each year the NHS needs to make decisions about what to spend its money on.

This dilemna of opportunity cost, has increased in recent years due to an increased number of expensive treatments that are becoming available.

For example, a new drug, is said to have a 50% chance of increasing life expectancy of cancer sufferers by upto 12 months. However, the new treatment is expected to cost an average of £100,000 per patient. This gives a cost utility of about £100,000 per extra year. (although only 50% chance of success means it is actually £200,000 per year.

If you compare this to the cost of other treatments and spending, it is a very inefficient use of money. Other treatments not always widely available have a cost utitily of much less than £200,000. Therefore, with limited resources it is advised that the NHS does not spend its money on this new drug, but continues to offer drugs with a better cost utility.

Which is right - Should the government ever refuse treatment that can prolong life?

Why Some drugs are not worth it
at BBC

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