29 October 2013

NICE Guidance To Cover Cost-Effectiveness of 'Free Vitamins For All Children'

Forthcoming NICE guidance will cover whether it is cost-effective to provide vitamin D supplements to all children under-five.

Earlier this week the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, published a report on children's health, which highlighted the problem of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is essential for skeletal growth and bone health in children and babies. A lack of vitamin D can impair development and lead to conditions such as rickets, a preventable condition that is increasingly common.

Currently, the Healthy Start vitamin programme provides vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D to children from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the availability of Healthy Start vitamins varies widely and uptake has been low. This is partly due to local supply problems, and manufacturers not making them directly available to pharmacies.

Due to this, and the prevalence of conditions like rickets, the report recommended that NICE reviews whether it is cost effective to ensure every child receives Healthy Start Vitamins, which include vitamins A, C and D.

Taking up the report's recommendations, NICE has announced that guidance it is currently developing will now cover the cost-effectiveness of this measure.

The guidance, on implementing existing vitamin D recommendations, is aimed at all groups at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as all pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children aged 5 and under, older people aged 65 and over, and people with dark skin.

It will cover measures such as increasing the awareness or uptake of vitamin D supplements among at-risk groups, and increasing their availability.

A range of measures have been examined for their cost-effectiveness in the development of the guidance. These include schemes trialled in Birmingham to provide vitamin D universally.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health at NICE, said: “We welcome the report's recommendation for NICE to review whether it is cost-effective to provide Healthy Start vitamins to all under-fives.

“We are currently developing guidance on the implementation of vitamin D recommendations. The guidance will consider a range of measures that can be taken to improve uptake, such as making free vitamins available at supermarket pharmacies, and the scheme in Birmingham for ensuring all children under five receive the supplements.”

The guidance is due to open for consultation in May 2014, with final recommendations published later in the year.

The guidance will build on existing recommendations from NICE, which includes its guidance on maternal and child nutrition.