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Justice, Transparency and the Guiding Principles of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Published8 Nov 2021

King's Authors


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the UK’s primary healthcare priority-setting body, responsible for advising the National Health Service in England on which technologies to fund and which to reject. Until recently, the normative approach underlying this advice was described in a 2008 document entitled ‘Social value judgements: Principles for the development of NICE guidance’ (SVJ). In January 2020, however, NICE replaced SVJ with a new articulation of its guiding principles. Given the significant evolution of NICE’s methods between 2008 and 2020, this study examines whether this new document (‘Principles’) offers a transparent account of NICE’s current normative approach. It finds that it does not, deriving much of its content directly from SVJ and failing to fully acknowledge or explain how and why NICE’s approach has since changed. In particular, Principles is found to offer a largely procedural account of NICE decision-making, despite evidence of the increasing reliance of NICE’s methods on substantive decision-rules and ‘modifiers’ that cannot be justified in purely procedural terms. Thus, while Principles tells NICE’s stakeholders much about how the organisation goes about the process of decision-making, it tells them little about the substantive grounds on which its decisions are now based. It is therefore argued that Principles does not offer a transparent account of NICE’s normative approach (either alone, or alongside other documents) and that, given NICE’s reliance on transparency as a requirement of procedural justice, NICE does not in this respect satisfy its own specification of a just decision-maker.

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