Thursday, 21 January 2021

The NICE formula and the coronavirus

 The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has a formula for determining how much money the public purse can spend on treatments. It is twenty thousand pounds for one additional year of heathy life.

I do not know how much money has been devoted to combating the coronavirus, but it is a massive number. To take just one measure: the government’s response has ensured that the government will add almost four hundred billion pounds to public sector borrowing in this financial year. Another measure is the negative effect on the economy, which is the worst in three hundred years. Whatever the financial cost, it can only be represented in the kind of numbers used by astronomers.

Just as I do not know how much money is being devoted to combating the virus, neither do I know how many additional years of healthy life are being bought by all this money. However, I do know that life expectancy is eighty-one years, and that the average age of a coronavirus related death is almost eighty-two and a half years. The implication of this is that at a population level no years of additional life (healthy or otherwise) are being bought by all that money.

In fact, the situation is, of course, far worse than this because the money being spent on combating the virus is not only not buying additional years of life, it is costing years of healthy life as a result of all the harm caused by this misallocation of resources. Money spent on track and trace, for example, is money that cannot be spent on anything else, including health care.

Just thinking about the government’s response to the coronavirus, even without the detailed numbers, in terms of the NICE formula shows it to be completely irrational, irresponsible and incompetent: that is, if we take the government’s claim to be solely motivated by a concern to save lives.

Our government is at best irrational, irresponsible and incompetent. It could be worse.

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