Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The future of drug costs under the NHS

The NHS is facing up to radical change and there have been a slew of very important white papers coming out at the moment. The news that the government is consulting on setting up a Cancer Drugs Fund, putting in £200m a year for three years to increase access to cancer treatment, will to many be welcome but represent a small step in the right direction.

But tucked away on page 8 of the report, is an interesting section:

The Cancer Drugs Fund is an interim measure until we can introduce a new value-based approach to medicines pricing

What this means (I think) is that the government is looking to fundamentally move NHS drugs procurement policy from the current NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) approach of considering drugs at the prices quoted by the pharmaceutical companies and deciding if the NHS can afford them. Instead the NHS will be increasingly looking at the value to the patient of these drugs and stating the price level at which the NHS would buy this drug.

So instead of saying that a drug is not appropriate to buy at say £40,000 per year, it will instead say that it would be good value at £32,000 and that we will buy it at this price. This approach opens up the potential to stop the UK pharma companies from holding the NHS to ransom with extortionate prices.

That really would be a revolution.

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