The NHS faces “eye-watering” costs for branded medicines due to the voluntary scheme for such drugs coming to an end, a coalition of MPs and health experts have warned.
The group has written an open letter to the Health Secretary warning that proposals put forward by pharmaceutical lobbyists risk causing “even higher bills” for the health service if accepted by the UK Government.
The voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access (VPAS), which currently caps growth of the NHS drugs bill to 2 per cent per year, is due to expire at the end of this year. The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) wants to replace the scheme with a voluntary scheme for pricing, access and growth (VPAG), which would see manufacturers pay a fixed levy of 6.9 per cent on profits made from selling medicines to the NHS.
The signatories include UK campaign organisation Global Justice Now, Labour MP John McDonnell and Green MP Caroline Lucas, as well as leading health economists. They describe these demands as representing a “severe threat to the NHS” which they warn could “send drugs spending through the roof”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) previously estimated that ABPI’s proposals would see UK taxpayers paying an extra £2.5bn per year for medicines, deeming this “completely unaffordable” and warning this would both “drive up the cost of medicines for the public” and “reduce NHS patients’ access to new treatments”.
Analysis by UK campaign group Global Justice Now revealed earlier this year that pharmaceutical firms have been charging mark-ups of up to 23,000 per cent over the past 10 years on drugs and earned over £12bn in excess profits from just 10 medicines – even within the current VPAS scheme. The signatories warn the expiration of the VPAS scheme could risk sending costs spiralling even further if ABPI’s proposals for a VPAG scheme are accepted.
The signatories call for the rejection of proposals that would increase the NHS drugs bill further. They add that in the long term, a new system must be built that “ensures fairer prices, more investment in drugs that truly represent breakthroughs, and strong public return for the research and development costs spent by the state of medical research”, outlining a pathway for this to be achieved.
Tim Bierley, pharmaceutical campaign manager at Global Justice Now said: “Not content with the huge profits they’re already extracting from the NHS, pharmaceutical corporations are now attempting to hold the taxpayer to ransom for yet more money. They argue that eyewatering profits – running into the billions – are necessary to fund research into new medical treatments.
“Yet much of the key research that drives medical innovation comes from publicly funded institutes and universities. As well as resisting any attempts to replace or water down VPAS, the government must fundamentally reform the way we make medicines, to ensure patients and health are placed above corporate profit.”
Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, said: “In the current VPAS negotiations, it is important for the pharmaceutical industry to recognise the financial pressures across the four National Health Services in the UK. In the short term, the UK Government could use VPAS rebates to fund early access to new drugs, as is the case in Scotland, which would benefit patients as well as the industry.
“However, in the long term, a better model is required to promote medical research and development while recognising that a significant proportion of original drug research is carried out in academic institutions, which already receive public funding, and that the majority of clinical trials depend on the commitment of both patients and NHS staff.”
The DHSC and ABPI have been approached for comment.