The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been presented as politically independent, asserting it is free from industry influence and conflicts of interest so that its decisions may be led by evidence and science. We consider the ways in which soft political factors operate in guideline development processes at NICE such that guidelines are not truly led by science. We suggest that while NICE procedures explicitly incorporate scientific principles and mechanisms, including independent committees and quality assurance, these fail to operate as scientific practices because, for example, decisions may only be challenged through the courts, which regard NICE as a scientific authority. We then examine what the NICE rapid guideline procedure for COVID-19 reveals about the practical reality of claims about the scientific integrity of NICE guidelines. Changes to guideline development processes during the COVID-19 emergency demonstrated how easy it is to undermine the scientific integrity of NICE’s decision-making. The cancellation of the guideline programme and the publication of a rapid guideline process specifically to address the COVID-19 pandemic removed scientific checks and balances, including independent committees, stakeholder consultation and quality assurance, demonstrating that the relationship between NICE and the UK government is more complex than a scientific principle truism. We suggest that NICE is not (and indeed cannot be) truly independent of government in practice, nor can it be truly led by science, in part because of its relationship to the state, which it is simultaneously constituted by and constitutive of.
- evidence-based practice
- healthcare economics and organisations
- healthcare quality
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Contributors Both authors conceived of the paper and wrote it jointly.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.