Flinging a 'small morsel of red meat' to the pack would only make them salivate even harder for more

A media commentator was recently asked on Radio 4 if deputy prime minister John Prescott's decision to move out of his 'grace and favour' home would satisfy the collective Daily Beast.

He replied that flinging a 'small morsel of red meat' to the pack would only make them salivate even harder for more.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence seems to have found itself in a similar no-win situation.

Its efforts to respond to the clamour for fast-track approval of the breast cancer drug Herceptin within weeks of it being licensed seem only to have whetted the appetite of the media and patient groups.

Newspapers that tasted victory on Herceptin approval have now turned their sights to other unapproved cancer drugs.

The Independent on Sundayreported that 'many more people...may die as a result of bureaucratic delays,' after the death of a bowel cancer patient who had not been able to get the pre-approved drug Avastin on the NHS.

It is now backing charities' campaign for an 'innovations fund' to help primary care trusts 'absorb costs' of new pre-approved treatments.

But as the paper notes, 'clinical priorities should not be set by public sentimentality and media sensation.' NICE was set up precisely to put an end to charges of bias influencing decisions on approving drugs and clinical procedures for the NHS.

The newspaper says NICE should be forced to be more open and transparent. Does it have a point? Or is any drug approval system bound to take flak as long as manufacturers have a new product to market?