Patients in the UK are still being short-changed by a system that is slow to pick up on new medicines and reluctant to prescribe them even when they have been recommended by NICE. This was stated at the launch of a manifesto produced by the research-based pharmaceutical industry today, that places patients firmly at the top of the agenda and calls for action to tackle postcode prescribing and help the NHS budget go further.
New figures produced by the ABPI show that the UK still lags behind its European and global counterparts in prescribing new, innovative medicines for patients. Even five years after their launch, major cancer medicines are still being prescribed at under two-thirds the rate of other, comparable countries; diabetes medicines at under half the rate; and dementia medicines at about one-third.
At the same time, ABPI statistics show that the medicines bill declined last year and, while a modest growth is estimated for this year, it will be well below previous growth rates. Prices of medicines are expected to continue to decline in real terms.
"There is a serious short-changing of British patients. Healthcare and medicines are all about patients and, in the UK, they are not getting modern medicines as quickly as they should, and often not getting them even when NICE has said they should," said Nigel Brooksby, President of the ABPI.
"The ABPI manifesto makes clear the industry's determination to work towards fairness in prescribing and ending the current postcode lottery. We are working closely with the Department of Health in improving the UK's position in the European league table of advanced medicines use.
"The pharmaceutical industry researches, develops and provides medicines that relieve suffering and improve health. We want to make sure that patients receive and benefit from them."
The ABPI figures show that, in the UK, new medicines - those no more than five years old - have an uptake more than a quarter lower than the average in comparator countries. Of 18 new medicines launched in this period, 13 are being prescribed below the rate of other countries, with nine at under half the use.
New cancer medicines have just 64 per cent of the overall take-up, according to 2005 figures. New diabetes medicines, glitazones, have 63 per cent usage of comparator countries three years from launch, and dementia treatments some 30 per cent.
The increased take-up of medicines following a positive recommendation by NICE should be prompt and substantial - but ABPI figures show that this is not the case. Prescribing of medicines for cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's often shows little or no change following NICE approval.
The overall medicines bill is not to blame - it dropped by an estimated 3.8 per cent in 2005, following the imposition of the seven per cent price cut under the terms of the new Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS). Looking forward, prices are expected to drop in real terms, and the increase to the budget caused by new products will be small.
"The industry recognises that the Government has to operate within a finite health budget, but preventing patients from getting medicines that can benefit them is not the way to do it," said Mr Brooksby. "We need to end the postcode lottery, where healthcare depends on where the patient lives.
"We must stop the iniquity whereby people are denied the medicines they need until their condition has deteriorated. There must be a better way - including the correct use of cost-effective medicines so that they become part of the answer to financial constraints, not part of the problem."
The manifesto also spells out the industry's determination to enforce the strict rules of the ABPI Code of Practice - the most robust system of self-regulation in the world. Thanks to the major publicity campaign launched by the ABPI earlier in the year to raise awareness of the code, the number of complaints - some 110 so far - made this year already exceeds the total for 2005.
"The number of complaints received from health professionals continues to be much higher than those from other sources. This is a success for our campaign to ensure doctors and others know of the code and its provisions, and we shall continue to name and shame companies found in breach of the code," said Mr Brooksby
"We will not defend any examples of bad practice within the industry. We will be transparent. In such a large industry, there are bound to be occasions when some behaviour is not as it should be - but we shall do our best to end it."
Research conducted on behalf of the ABPI by the independent research agency Ipsos-MORI shows that the industry's willingness to be open about those who transgress its code has not affected its positive standing among public and politicians.
By nearly four to one, the public is favourable rather than unfavourable towards the pharmaceutical industry. Despite being less well-known than most other industries measured by the survey, pharmaceuticals is among the most favourably regarded.
Among MPs, favourability towards the pharmaceutical industry now stands at its highest level since 2001, as the result of a 12-point rise since last year. Two-thirds of MPs now have a favourable view of the industry, outnumbering critics by four-to-one.
Similarly, journalists' overall disposition towards the ABPI and ratings of its press relations are now at an all-time high.
"I believe these results reflect the fact that the industry operates to the highest ethical and legal standards, and that we are as open as possible about what we are doing and how we are doing it - but there is still more to do," said Mr Brooksby.
"A good reputation is not achieved without a sound basis. Our manifesto pledges to continue our efforts in these areas so that we can build on our growing transparency and the resulting greater trust."
NOTE TO EDITORS
A copy of the Manifesto, The Right Medicine, The Right Patient, The Right Time, is enclosed with this press release please click here to view a pdf of it.
The ABPI participated in three Ipsos-MORI key audience research surveys:
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410