OXFORD - Britain's National Health Service, set up in 1948 to provide a comprehensive service free at the point of delivery, looks like it cannot afford to provide innovative new medicines. Last week it emerged that the U.K.'s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) is likely to recommend that beta interferon should not be made available to multiple sclerosis sufferers in England and Wales, beyond those individuals already receiving the treatment free.

Sir Michael Rawlins, NICE's chairman, confirmed that its appraisal committee had made a provisional ruling that beta interferon would not be prescribed more widely. "This is because, on the basis of a very careful consideration of the evidence, the modest clinical benefit appears to be outweighed by the very high cost," he said.