Exploring the relative value of end of life QALYs: are the comparators important?

Neil McHugh*, José Luis Pinto-Prades, Rachel Baker, Helen Mason, Cam Donaldson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
106 Downloads (Pure)


In the UK, life extending, end-of-life (EoL) treatments are an exception to standard cost-per-quality-adjusted life year (QALY) thresholds. This implies that greater value is placed on gaining these QALYs, than QALYs gained by the majority of other patient groups treated for anything else in the health system, even for other EoL contexts (such as quality of life (QoL) improvements alone). This paper reports a Person Trade-Off (PTO) study to test whether studies that find societal support for prioritising EoL life extensions can be explained by the severity, in terms of prospective QALYs loss, of the non-terminal comparator scenarios.
Eight health scenarios were designed depicting i) QoL improvements for non-EoL temporary (T-QoL) and chronic (C-QoL) health problems and ii) QoL improvements and life extensions (LEs) for EoL health problems. Preferences were elicited from a quota sample of 901 Scottish respondents in 2016 using PTO techniques via Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI).
Our results indicate that there is little evidence to suggest that the severity of non-EoL comparator scenarios influence preferences for EoL treatments. Respondents do not appear to have a preference for EoL over non-EoL health gains; instead there is some indication that non-EoL health gains are preferred, particularly when compared to EoL-LE health gains. Comparing between QoL and life extending EoL scenarios, our results suggest QoL improvements are preferred to life extensions. Overall, results challenge current UK EoL policy which gives additional weight to EoL health gains, particularly EoL life extensions in the case of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Original languageEnglish
Article number112660
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date6 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • end-of-life
  • life extension
  • person trade-off
  • comparators
  • stated preferences
  • UK


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