This improves how the government controls the cost of drugs, with it estimating to save NHS England £88m a year by reforming the pricing scheme. It will allow them to take action on excessive price increases on unbranded medicines. It also requires more information about drugs, as the government is currently hindered by arrangements with the voluntary pricing scheme - the PPRS (Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme).
The Health Secretary can currently control branded medicines (ones with a patented name, not just the scientific name of the drug) with a voluntary scheme that is agreed with the pharmaceutical industry called the PPRS - the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme. Companies that are members of the PPRS make payments to it to ensure NHS spending on those medicines stays at an agreed level. This voluntary scheme goes hand in hand with a compulsory one, but recently drug companies have been leaving the voluntary one for the statutory one, as it is less effective. The way the law works means that a drug company cannot be directed by the Health Secretary much if they are part of the voluntary PPRS scheme, even if it’s for other unbranded medicines that the produce.
Some describe this as a a loophole as companies can’t put up a branded medicine cost up, but they can put it out unbranded and put the price up as much as they like. This is problematic for the NHS that wants to buy life-saving medicines, but find it increasingly financially crippling to do so.
It’s expected that competition in the pharmaceutical industry keeps prices down, but in a lot of areas, there just isn’t any competition. So, if one company makes a life-saving drug and it’s the only one, they can arguably charge what they like for it.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is in charge of this.
The pharmaceutical industry argues that the UK already “benefits from one of the most competitive generic medicines markets in Europe”. They also argue that overpriced medicines are ‘rare’ cases.
But it’s undeniable that drugs are very expensive for the NHS. The Times has been investigating this and found that some drugs have risen by more than 1000% in price. If no one else is making them, then it’s hard for the NHS to negotiate, so some might argue that the way they purchase or the way the private sector has a monopoly on drug manufacturing needs to change.
How to get involved
Get in touch with your MP.
If I don’t act, will it go through?
It will probably go through.