30 March 2007
Two drugs giants have moved a step closer to forcing the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to provide them with a fully working version of secret computer software..
The companies have won permission for a judicial review which, if successful, also opens the door for benefits claimants to launch a similar demand for disclosure of secret software used to assess their capacity for work.
As disclosed previously by Benefits and Work, drug giants Eisai and Pfizer are taking legal action against NICE because of the secretive way in which it reached a decision not to allow patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's to be prescribed potentially helpful drugs. The decision was based on an assessment of the drugs value to patients using software developed by Southampton University. When the drugs companies asked for a working copy of the software so that they could assess and, if appropriate, challenge its methodology they were refused on the grounds that the precise working of the software is, 'commercially confidential' information. Southampton University hopes to sell its software to bodies similar to NICE in other countries.
The situation appears to be exactly analogous to that experienced by claimants attempting to obtain a working copy of the LiMA software developed by multinational Atos Origin. The software is owned by the DWP, but Atos Origin has a licence to sell it to governments and private companies around the world. As a result, the DWP has refused to disclose the precise workings of the software on the grounds that such information is commercially confidential.
However, if the drug companies challenge to NICE is successful there are strong grounds for believing that a claimant challenging a decision that they are capable of work could apply for a similar judicial review for disclosure of LiMA. Benefits and Work will keep readers informed of the progress of the case.