ON Budget Day when the Chancellor is expected to ignore the cash crisis facing the NHS – after the service has suffered massive cuts and faces many more – drug companies are literally robbing the NHS and harming the interests of NHS patients, for the benefit of their shareholders.
Drug company Concordia has overcharged the NHS by millions for a key thyroid treatment, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has just provisionally found. The CMA said that last year the NHS spent £34m on the Concordia drug, liothyronine, up from about £600,000 in 2006.
The amount the NHS paid per pack rose from around £4.46 in 2007 to £258.19 by July 2017, an increase of almost 6,000%. Concordia responded that it does ‘not believe that competition law has been infringed’!
However, the CMA insists that the gigantic price hike took place despite ‘broadly stable’ production costs. CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, said: ‘Pharmaceutical companies which abuse their position and overcharge for drugs are forcing the NHS – and the UK taxpayer – to pay over the odds for important medical treatments. We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of liothyronine tablets to do exactly that.’
Coscelli stressed that the CMA has not, as yet, made any decision as to whether this robbery of the taxpayers and the NHS constitutes a breach of competition law and is illegal. The CMA added that if its provisional finding is upheld it can impose a fine of up to 10% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover, and that this case is only one of a number of cases that it is looking at within the pharmaceutical sector.
The CMA watchdog has already fined drugs giant Pfizer and Flynn Pharma nearly £90m for ‘excessive and unfair prices’ for the anti-epilepsy treatment phenytoin sodium capsules, and has also fined a number of pharmaceutical companies £45m in relation to anti-depressant medicine paroxetine.
However, both of these fines are ‘under appeal’ by the profiteers who are claiming that they have been wronged, and have done nothing illegal. The CMA is meanwhile pursuing another seven investigations into several other companies. The above cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
In another case, twelve Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in the north of England want to offer Avastin to people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a debilitating eye condition.
Pharmaceutical firms Bayer and Novartis are threatening legal action, claiming prescribing it ‘undermines’ guidelines. The 12 CCGs said clinical trials show Avastin is suitable and could save them up to £13.5m a year within five years.
South Tyneside CCG chief officer Dr David Hambleton said this could ‘pay for an extra 270 nurses or 266 heart transplants.’ Some estimates suggest a national switch to Avastin could save the NHS around £500m per year, the Britsh Medical Journal reports. It has been licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but not specifically to treat AMD.
Avastin costs about £70 per injection, compared with more than £700 for Bayer’s Lucentis. Dr Hambleton insists that pharmaceutical companies ‘should not dictate which drugs are available to NHS patients. The choice between three clinically effective drugs should be one for NHS clinicians and patients to make together,’ he said. He added that he believes the CCGs are acting lawfully.
In response to the Tory onslaught on the NHS, which today’s Budget will continue, the TUC trade unions must defend it by calling a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government. This will find all of the cash required to end the NHS cuts and further develop the NHS by cancelling the Trident programme, and nationalising the drug companies and the banks!