Scientific Contribution

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 281-293

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

NICE technology appraisals: working with multiple levels of uncertainty and the potential for bias

  • Patrick BrownAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam Email author 
  • , Michael CalnanAffiliated withSchool of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent


One of the key roles of the English National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is technology appraisal. This essentially involves evaluating the cost effectiveness of pharmaceutical products and other technologies for use within the National Health Service. Based on a content analysis of key documents which shed light on the nature of appraisals, this paper draws attention to the multiple layers of uncertainty and complexity which are latent within the appraisal process, and the often socially constructed mechanisms for tackling these. Epistemic assumptions, bounded rationality and more explicitly relational forms of managing knowledge are applied to this end. These findings are discussed in the context of the literature highlighting the inherently social process of regulation. A framework is developed which posits the various forms of uncertainty, and responses to these, as potential conduits of regulatory bias—in need of further research. That NICE’s authority is itself regulated by other actors within the regulatory regime, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, exposes it to the threat of regulatory capture. Following Lehoux, it is concluded that a more transparent and reflexive format for technological appraisals is necessary. This would enable a more robust, defensible form of decision-making and moreover enable NICE to preserve its legitimacy in the midst of pressures which threaten this.


Alzheimer’s Complexity Hope Polycentric regimes Regulation Uncertainty