Saturday, 19 December 2015

This is not a scandal - it merely shows us the difference between policy and advice

It is reported that 'minsters pressured' the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE as it's illiterately known) on the matter of minimum pricing for booze:

MINISTERS are accused of pressuring an independent health watchdog into dropping support for minimum booze pricing.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence removed backing for the scheme from recent NHS guidelines. It had previously supported it in advice which said slashing OAPs’ drinking could cut dementia.

But a British Medical Journal probe claims the watchdog only made the change after health ministers intervened.

Well actually this allegation - unsurprisingly from the British Medical Journal the house magazine for nannying fussbuckets and health fascists - is completely false.

NICE were clear that they had given advice on this matter and that it wasn't withdrawn (just not repeated - NICE isn't a lobby group). What we have here is departmental officials explaining that policy decisions are for ministers, the people elected to do that job, not advisors. And ministers are entitled to make policy decisions that run counter to the advice they are given by bodies like NICE. It is not the role of an advisory body like NICE to make statements of support for or disagreement with policy when that support or opposition is contrary to the government's position.

I wouldn't expect the fussbuckets to understand this distinction - indeed they usually adopt the position that government should do exactly what they say even when, as is the case with minimum pricing for alcohol or taxing sugar, the negative impact of that policy is very considerable (something the fussbuckets can ignore but which ministers have a duty to consider). What this advice to NICE reminds us is that political decision-making is - or should be - the reserve of the politicians we elect not advisory bodies. And there is no doubt that imposing a price floor or a new tax is a political decision not merely 'public health advice'.


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