Nanny state wants NHS to provide free marriage guidance
Couples with relationship problems will be offered free sessions for up to six months, as part of a £270 million programme to increase the provision of “talking therapies” for the public, Andy Burnham, the health secretary, announced.
Doctors and patients’ groups said they were “horrified” by the use of NHS resources for relationship advice when patients with cancer and dementia were being denied treatment they desperately needed.
Currently, most people seeking help from services like Relate pay between £45 and £60 per session, meaning the free counselling packages will be worth around £1,000 per couple.
The NHS is expected to have to pay existing marriage guidance services, and newly-trained counsellors to provide the therapy.
Doctors and patients groups last night attacked the recommendation, contained in guidance by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). NICE has repeatedly come under fire for decisions to reject life-extending drugs for cancer and treatment to reduce symptoms of dementia.
On Thursday, NICE was accused by charities of “condemning patients” to an early death by rejecting the use of Nexavar, a drug which can extend the lives of liver cancer, arguing that its £9 million annual cost – £3,000 a month per patient – could not be justified.
Nick James, professor of clinical oncology at the Cancer Research UK Institute for Cancer Studies said: “I am horrified, in particular because of the way these decisions are taken without public debate.
“I think most people would say treatment for those who are sick with cancer should be top of our list, and I would really question whether these kinds of efforts to preserve marriages are a matter for the state.”
NICE has previously restricted the use of drugs to limit the effects of Alzheimer’s, costing £2 a day, while provoking further controversy in May when it ruled in favour of alternative therapies like acupuncture for back pain, despite admitting there was little evidence they worked.
Michael Summers, Vice-President of the Patients Association, urged NICE and the Government to “get their priorities right”. If we had the luxury of untold sums of money, maybe we would think about paying for couples counselling,” he said.
“As things stand, people are still waiting for urgent treatment, being denied drugs for cancer, and dementia, and it seems inappropriate at the very least to start using public money in this way”.