this week

The head of the Scottish body mirroring the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has claimed it will be more independent than its English counterpart.

Dr Angus Mackay, chair of the implementation group for the Scottish Health Technology Assessment Centre, told The Scotsman newspaper that SHTAC will set its own agenda and priorities, instead of having them set by the government.

SHTAC will examine drugs and devices for their clinical effectiveness, and there has already been widespread consultation. This is one of the reasons given for SHTAC starting work later than NICE.

Proposals for how the group will work with the Scottish Parliament were submitted last week. Under them, SHTAC will be a special health board with a small staff including a health economics department.

It will have an advisory council which will include patient representatives, doctors and nurses.

It will only be able to make recommendations, and it will be up to individual health boards to decide whether to implement them. But health boards are being told they will have to have a very good reason for rejecting SHTAC's recommendations.

Among the drugs to be assessed in SHTAC's first session will be 'flu drug Relenza, Viagra, and beta interferon, which is currently funded by a limited number of health boards in Scotland.

SHTAC will use existing and new investigations produced by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network and the Clinical Research Audit Group, both of which promote consistency and best practice.

The independence of the body from its English counterpart is being emphasised, and SHTAC will be free to recommend drugs that do not get approval in England.