The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence would function better if it was cut off from the Department of Health, its chief executive has said.

Andrew Dillon said the wider public sector would look more favourably on NICE’s public health guidance if it was no longer a DoH arms length body.

This would involve NICE being established under an act of parliament, known as primary legislation. At present NICE is a DoH special health authority

Mr Dillon told a Labour fringe meeting: ‘I think there would be some real advantages in being established under primary and becoming a non-departmental public body.’

He later told HSJ that although NICE provides public health guidance to local and central government and employers, those bodies associated it with its decisions on whether drugs should be used in the NHS.

Making it a non-departmental public body would ‘help to both reinforce our independence and also give us a better platform to those non-NHS bodies,’ he said.

Mr Dillon told last week’s meeting that the body had never been told what to do by a secretary of state for health.

He said: ‘The Department and the secretary of state I think respect the fact that when they ask us to do something they step back at that point and let us get on with it.’

But pressure from the public and the media during the row over NICE’s appraisal of breast cancer drug Herceptin had made its job ‘extremely difficult’ he said.