Analysing the Economic Returns of the Health Technology Assessment Programme

Nurse preparing patient for CT scan

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The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme, established in 1993, is the largest dedicated research programme for the National Health Service (NHS). The programme's goal is to ensure that high-quality research evidence on the effectiveness, costs and impact of health technologies is made available to policymakers, practitioners and patients in a timely and efficient manner.

The underlying principle of the HTA programme is that clinical research should not only use the most rigorous techniques, but should be needs-led, with a clear benefit to patients and practitioners.


RAND Europe examined the impact of the HTA programme to understand its potential economic benefits. We looked at 10 HTA-funded projects that had shown that a new treatment could offer benefits if introduced in the NHS, either by saving costs or by improving health through better treatment.


The 10 projects we examined could bring benefits worth approximately £3.0bn if the new treatments were used in the NHS for one year. This figure includes both cost savings for the NHS and the health benefit to patients converted into financial terms.

Given that the total costs of the HTA programme over the past 20 years were approximately £367m annually, successfully implementing these 10 projects for one year would pay for the entire programme.

To carry out this analysis, a range of assumptions were required. In particular, it was assumed that the projects’ findings were fully implemented across the NHS, and the impact of the projects could be wholly attributed to the HTA-funded research.


A number of observations could help ensure that the HTA Programme maximises the likelihood of findings being adopted:

  • Consider the full range of costs of implementation.
  • Consider timing projects so they can inform the revision of relevant guidelines.
  • Continue to support research that other programmes are less willing to support.
  • Continue to identify unproven practices used in the NHS as well as new interventions.
  • Continue to require systematic reviews before primary research is commissioned.
  • Improve meta-data on HTA studies.
  • Ensure consistency of economic analyses.