I am delighted to be here today to launch the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It will play a crucial role in our effort to provide the best health services for all in every part of the country. It will provide authoritative guidance to health service professionals. NICE will give advice on the clinical and cost effectiveness of both new and existing technologies, including pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests, surgical procedures and other treatments. It will cover both physical and mental illness.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence will develop guidelines covering all aspects of care, making sure that best practice is spread across the whole country, rapidly, effectively and consistently. It will play a central role in the achievement of three components of our plans to create a modern and dependable NHS.

First, NICE is crucial to our plans for fair and equal treatment of patients within a truly national health service. Internal markets and post codes were never an acceptable way to run a health service. NICE guidance will provide a common currency of effectiveness for the NHS, to inform and assist decision-making about treatment and care at all levels, national, local and individual. A solid, scientific basis for deciding the best treatments for patients is better than the vagaries of an internal market. Of course guidance from NICE will not remove the need to take account of genuine, good clinical reasons for tailoring the care provided to the needs of individual patients. That will always be something to be decided with the individual patient in the consulting room.

Second, the mission for NICE will be to promote innovation and quality in the NHS. NICE will identify those new developments that have the greatest potential to improve patient care, and NICE will help spread these new treatments across the NHS much more quickly than ever before. Wonderful new treatments for common diseases have been developed - I am thinking here of the clot-busting drugs or curing ulcers without surgery - yet all too often those new treatments have taken months, years, or even decades before they have spread throughout the health service. For NICE to bring that kind of knowledge more rapidly to our frontline would be a giant leap forward in itself.

Third, we need NICE in order to deliver the highest possible quality of care and make the best use of resources. NICE is going to provide authoritative advice to help us make the best use of the resources available to the NHS.

With all the excellent developments in medicine that are becoming available, it is not in anyone's interest to waste money on treatments that do not provide good value for money. The people working in the NHS have always had to struggle with difficult decisions - in future they will be able to base such decisions on the highest quality research evidence from an objective source.

I must take a minute to acknowledge here the excellent work of professional staff and academic researchers who have sought to push forward the frontiers of our medical knowledge. In recent years Medical Royal Colleges, Nurses, Midwives, Therapists and other professions have worked with researchers and the NHS to discover new treatments, and to re-evaluate some existing treatments. Pharmaceutical research has produced new drugs which tackle previously untreatable conditions and there are many more to come.

I can well understand the frustration felt by those who have developed effective new services only to watch as it takes years before they are adopted. The Government's reforms will, for the first time, provide a route through which these innovators can achieve widespread adoption of their breakthrough treatments.   I know that some in the pharmaceutical industry are anxious that NICE may discourage the take up of new products, or will place bureaucratic obstacles in the way. Let me give a clear assurance straight away. The government wants to see successful innovation - innovation that genuinely offers advances to patients, at a fair and realistic price - actively promoted and encouraged. Where the evidence is convincing, NICE will do exactly that. Gone will be the days in which adjacent health authorities looked at different evidence in different ways and came to different conclusions.

But equally where new products do not offer convincing advantages over existing, tried and tested, treatments then I expect NICE to say so - asking for further research where that is needed, or recommending that the new treatments should not be routinely used.

NICE will end the current confusion and provide a single, national focus. And we will want to see NICE's advice provided not just to professional staff, but also made available to patients. Patients and carers will have full access to the information produced by NICE, so that they too can be well informed about health topics and treatments. NICE will need to engage patients in the development of guidelines in the first place - society no longer expects these issues to be handled by professionals in isolation. NICE will be an inclusive organization, and its membership will be drawn from the health professions, the NHS, academics and patients.

Many of the organisations which have previously been funded directly by the Department of Health, such as PRODIGY - the new information system for use in Primary Care - the National Centre for Clinical Audit and the Prescriber's Journal will be incorporated within NICE. This will give the Institute a broad focus and will ensure that care is delivered in a way that is accessible to hospital staff, GPs and patients.

You will recall that last year in Harrogate, I announced (the then) Professor Michael Rawlins as the Chair designate for NICE. I am very pleased to confirm that (the now) Sir Michael Rawlins is the substantive Chair of NICE. He, the rest of his Board and staff, have my full backing in this new venture. I am sure that he will be able to steer NICE through its work programme in its first years.

I believe that this is a great day for the NHS - already the fairest and most cost effective health care system in the world. Patients will be able to benefit from the work and advice of professionals who, for the first time, will have available to them top quality authoritative help and guidance. It will mean better treatment and care - the best for all - quality and equality - the basic ethic of our National Health Service.

31 March 1999