Nationalise the Pharmaceutical Industry

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AT last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, 100 pharmaceutical companies and private health care companies issued a statement demanding that governments around the world cough up billions of pounds to finance the development of new antibiotic drugs.

The need for such drugs has become a major cause for concern amongst the medical profession as more and more infections are becoming resistant to the existing range of antibiotics, leading to the nightmare scenario of worldwide epidemics that have no known cure.

What these giant drug companies are now saying is that they are not going to use the vast profits they make to fund the research and development of these vital drugs.

Instead, the money is to come from the taxpayer.

Naturally, once these drugs have been developed, the licence to produce and sell them will be handed over to the drug companies and they can be assured of healthy profits for their shareholders.

It was noticeable that along with the demand for funding was the demand that governments introduce strict patent regulations for these drugs, ensuring that the drug companies keep a tight hold on their monopoly by guarding against the production of cheaper generic drugs.

All this makes a complete mockery of the claim by these companies that they have to charge exorbitant amounts to the health service for drugs because they need the super profits generated in order to fund research and development. Their vast profits go almost entirely into the pockets of the shareholders.

Nothing better exposed the fact that Big Pharma are not altruistic companies working tirelessly for the health and wellbeing of the people of the world than the scandal that erupted in the US last year, when it was revealed that a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals had acquired the rights to a drug, called Daraprim, used to treat life-threatening infectious diseases – and that had been around for 62 years – and immediately raised the price of the drug from $13.50 a tablet to $750, an increase of over 5,000%.

Turing was the creation of a former hedge fund manager Martin Shkrell. This was only the most blatant example. Numerous other drugs have experienced similar huge increases in price, leading health care experts in America to warn of a developing business strategy in the drug companies and warn of the ‘financialisation’ of the pharmaceutical industry.

In fact there is nothing new in this financialisation of health – the whole of the industry is dominated by the drive to produce profit at all costs. While these ‘Big Pharma’ companies are insistent that the taxpayer provide the funding for their profits they are not too keen on paying taxes themselves.

An investigation by the Independent newspaper this week revealed that GE Healthcare, owned by US multinational General Electric, which has contracts worth millions supplying medical equipment to the NHS, paid virtually nothing in taxes despite having its HQ in the UK. GE Healthcare is not alone. A study commissioned by Unite last year found that tax avoidance was ‘at the very core’ of firms bidding for major NHS contracts.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of the union, Unison, said: ‘Companies that make healthy profits from selling to the NHS, yet pay minuscule amounts of tax, ought to hang their heads in shame.’ He added that ‘NHS staff are angry at companies that would rather pay profits to shareholders than the right level of taxes’ and called for these privateers to be excluded if they appear to be avoiding taxes.

It is the trade union leaders like Prentis who should be ashamed, they have done nothing to defend the NHS except to beg the Tories for mercy. The Tories aren’t interested in curbing the profits of these multi-nationals – they are preparing to sell the NHS to them. The only answer to the obscenity of vast profits being made out of the NHS is to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers government and a socialist system that will nationalise the pharmaceutical industry for the benefit of all and not the profit of a few.