Nationalise the pharmaceutical corporations!

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A REPORT into the expenditure of the National Health Service on drugs, published by the government’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) yesterday, reveals that the NHS pays £8bn a year to huge multinational drug companies for medicines.

For the past 18 months, the OFT has been investigating the operation of the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) that sets the prices that the NHS pays for drugs.

The OFT found that the prices paid for some drugs were way out of line with their benefits to patients, including those prescribed for thousands of people to treat cholesterol levels, blood pressure and stomach acid.

It said: ‘Specifically, some drugs currently prescribed in large volumes are up to 10 times more expensive than substitute treatments that deliver very similar benefits to patients.’

At the moment the huge pharmaceutical monopolies, like GlaxoSmithKline (UK), Pfizer (US) and Astrazeneca (UK), set the prices of their drugs under the PPRS’s ‘profit cap and price cut’ scheme. This allows the companies to make between 8.4 per cent and 29.4 per cent profit on capital.

The OFT said prescribing drugs on the basis of their benefits for patients ‘would release in the region of £500m of expenditure that could be used more effectively, giving patients better access to medicines and other treatments which they may currently be denied’.

The NHS is being overcharged by £500m on a budget of £8bn to the drug monopolies. It is not surprising that two of the world’s top 10 corporations are British. They have the state-funded NHS as a captive domestic market for their products, guaranteeing them huge profits.

After the OFT report was published, the government’s Department of Health said: ‘We recognise the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to healthcare and the development of medical advances and it is in all our interests to encourage research and reward innovation.’

So we can be sure that the Labour government will do everything it can to ensure millions in NHS funds continue to pour into the pharmaceutical giants.

These revelations from the OFT came only a day after a survey conducted by the largest NHS trade union, UNISON, showed that ‘the government is allowing multinationals to bleed the NHS dry’.

Figures published yesterday also showed that hospitals and Primary Care Trusts are forecasting a £1.32bn gross deficit this financial year, up from the £1.18bn forecast three months ago.

Everyone can see where these billions are going, that is straight into the accounts of the huge multinational healthcare corporations and pharmaceutical companies, boosting their profits.

With the Labour government, headed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, organising healthcare corporations to leech off the NHS and ensuring that drug companies can plunder the NHS budget, more is needed than statements condemning this from union leaders.

The whole of the working class must move into action immediately before the government cuts and closes our hospitals and privatises the whole of the NHS.

Already there are hundreds of campaigns in communities protesting at cuts and closures in their local hospitals. In some areas, like north-east London, a council of action has been set up to organise direct action to stop the destruction of local hospitals, through occupations, pickets, demonstrations and strikes.

But this is a national attack on the NHS by the government and demands national action.

The TUC set up NHS Together, uniting the health unions and professional organisations, last summer. It has called a Day of Action on March 3 where it is expected that mass actions will take place all over the country.

This must be the start of a struggle for a general strike to bring down the Blair government, to defend the NHS.

This government must be replaced by a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies, including nationalising all privatised NHS services and the pharmaceutical corporations.

The trade union leaders have to be forced to organise a general strike, or be replaced with leaders who will organise this fight. The Workers Revolutionary Party is building a new leadership to organise this struggle and lead it to victory. Join the WRP today!