Friday, November 15, 2013

Big Pharma waves the shroud

Too many drugs being blocked from NHS, say pharma giants

Nine of the world’s biggest pharmaceuticals companies have demanded an overhaul of NHS processes that they claim are damaging the “health of the British public and wealth of the British economy”.

In a joint letter to The Telegraph, the drugs giants, including Pfizer, Sanofi and Novartis, have warned that new and innovative medicines are being blocked from the health service by “overly complicated” approval processes and a heavy emphasis on cost control.

They claim that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body that selects drugs for use in the NHS, has approved “fewer than one-in-three medicines” since 2005.

“Medicines should not just be seen as a cost. They are an investment and an essential part of improving patient outcomes,” the letter says. “[Yet] the proportion of medicines refused by NICE is only increasing.”

Jonathan Emms, UK managing director at Pfizer, said: “Right now NICE is saying 'no' too often. It is blocking many innovative new medicines from reaching the UK patients who need them most, medicines that are often readily available in Europe.”

He added: “We want Government to set a new mandate for NICE to really be a champion for patients and innovation not just economics.”

The debate over the cost of medicines follows a deal agreed last week by the Government and pharmaceutical companies to freeze the cost of supplying branded medicines to the NHS. The deal was described by the Government as a “breakthrough” that would save the NHS £1bn in two years. It was billed as voluntary but companies faced a statutory 15pc price cut on their products if they chose not to sign up.

While accepting the price freeze, the nine pharmaceuticals companies argue that it another example of the Government’s narrow focus on cost over innovation. In their letter, they argue that the deal “could have been transformational for Britain” but “instead we believe a critical opportunity has been missed... It has failed to break down the barriers that are currently preventing patients from being treated with the most cutting edge and effective new medicines available.”

The companies argue that the “UK must urgently focus on better access to new medicines”, while “actions to manage costs should be matched with action to drive better health outcomes”.

“This means setting a new mandate for NICE to make the UK a world leader in the use of innovative, new medicines,” they have written. “The Prime Minister must act to make this happen. Failing to do so could damage Britain’s health and prospects for generations to come.”

Although the health service spent £12bn on branded drugs last year, the companies say medicines only accounted for 10pc of NHS expenditure in 2011 and the UK pays less for medicines than European counterparts.

Mr Emms said: “NICE must recognise the value of innovative new medicines and support their use in the NHS, so that patients get the treatments they need. Without this, we risk falling short of the Government’s goals for better health, and the UK’s leadership on the global life sciences stage."

In a statement, NICE said: "The companies wildly underestimate the proportion of drugs approved by NICE for use on the NHS.

"NICE supports the use of more than 80pc of the drugs we appraise, frequently going to considerable lengths to uncover the real, additional benefit for patients.

"The role of NICE is to help the NHS achieve better outcomes for patients and new medicines will often, though not always, help to do that.

"The NHS needs to be confident that the treatments it buys with its increasingly stretched resources are both clinically and cost effective, because money has to be diverted from elsewhere in the health service to pay for them. If we do not do this, the risk is not so much that we miss out on the benefit that new treatments can bring, but that we deny the effective care for people in need that could otherwise be made available.

"In their letter, the company executives call on the government to review the way NICE appraises medicines. They know this process is well under way. We are looking at ways to include the wider benefit to society a drug can bring in how we appraise medicines and medical technologies."

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