Innovation as a value in healthcare priority-setting: the UK experience

Soc Justice Res. 2019;32(2):208-238. doi: 10.1007/s11211-019-00333-9. Epub 2019 Apr 15.


All healthcare systems operate with limited resources and therefore need to set priorities for allocating resources across a population. Trade-offs between maximising health and promoting health equity are inevitable in this process. In this paper, we use the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as an example to examine how efforts to promote healthcare innovation in the priority-setting process can complicate these trade-offs. Drawing on NICE guidance, health technology assessment reports and relevant policy documents, we analyse under what conditions NICE recommends the National Health Service fund technologies of an "innovative nature", even when these technologies do not satisfy NICE's cost-effectiveness criteria. Our findings fail to assuage pre-existing concerns that NICE's approach to appraising innovative technologies curtails its goals to promote health and health equity. They also reveal a lack of transparency and accountability regarding NICE's treatment of innovative technologies, as well as raising additional concerns about equity. We conclude that further research needs to evaluate how NICE can promote health and health equity alongside healthcare innovation and draw some general lessons for healthcare priority-setting bodies like NICE.

Keywords: Accountability; Health equity; Healthcare priority-setting; Innovation; Justice; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE); Social values.