In a speech to industry leaders at the ABPI’s annual member conference, he said in the past pharmaceutical companies invested heavily and took great risks to discover medicines and were then rewarded through sales to the NHS so that further investment could be made for new treatments.
But he is now concerned this deal has broken down as the system fails to buy the newest and most innovative medicines – to the detriment of patient health and the long term viability of the pharmaceutical industry.
Spending on the newest medicines is set to decline in the coming years despite their use helping to reduce expensive hospital care and despite the savings the NHS has made on the medicines budget as many treatments lose their patent.
Stephen Whitehead explained the current difficulties faced by the NHS, industry and patients:
“The UK is amongst the slowest adopter of new medicines in Europe, despite low prices, and our spending on new medicines is actually set to decline further.
“Modern medicines are pivotal to cost effective care and help prevent expensive and unwanted hospitalisations. They are of increasing importance as the UK population ages.
“Medicines underpin a successful, sustainable NHS and have made many diseases easy and cheap to treat. They have transformed the treatment of ulcers, closed mental asylums, cured cancers, treated heart disease, diabetes and HIV.
“Without medical advances delivered by the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS could not deliver an effective service to patients. Without our investment in dementia and other challenging disease areas the system cannot cope.
“NICE approved medicines are not reaching patients despite proof of value and guarantees under the NHS constitution.
“This is a widespread and disturbing trend. The vital UK life sciences sector is suffering, R&D has declined from 6% of trials to 1.2%, and it no longer supports as many jobs it did just a few years ago.
“What’s more, job losses in the past four years have amounted to 16,000.
“The UK industry is delivering billions of savings to the NHS as patents expire – in fact over the next three years the system is set to save £3.4bn as generics are prescribed in the place of branded medicines.
“The UK has traditionally been a core global base for the discovery of medicines and R&D, but the sector is now at a crossroads and we now need to ask what our future role will be.
“The pharmaceutical industry has long recognised its social contract with the NHS. We discover and develop medicines, at great cost whilst enduring the very real risk of failures, to address unmet medical need and we get reward for that risk through sales to the NHS so we can reinvest in new treatments. The healthcare system utilises these medicines, reduces reliance on hospitals and delivers the care patients want. Countless diseases are now manageable. This has been the deal for decades.
“This contract has broken down, new medicines are not being adopted despite stringent assessments of value and patients are not getting the best treatments.
“A recent report by the NHS Information Centre found that NICE-appraised medicines are being underused by the NHS in half of disease groups.
“This has serious implications – the NHS will come under ever greater pressure as the cost of caring rises if they fail to utilise medicines that are recommended by NICE. Whilst the industry cannot make a sufficient return to invest in new generations of medicines and patients will suffer. The healthcare social contract is broken in the UK and the implications are severe for all stakeholders –patients, the NHS and the UK based pharmaceutical industry.
“There is a critical and vital need to address this now. Together, we need to find a model that stimulates R&D, motivates the NHS to adopt innovative medicines and encourage further discoveries in our battle against disease. There needs to be a realignment of investment with the patient at the centre. In the UK, the NHS is tied to maintaining unneeded hospitals when care is best provided using modern medicines and community services at home. A modern healthcare system should be based on patient need and utilising modern medicines, not on maintaining expensive and unproductive infrastructure. Whilst austerity impacts us all, it also presents the opportunity to make long needed change.
“The Government through the Innovation, Health and Wealth review has recognised this issue and is seeking to challenge the problem to ensure the sustainability of the NHS and the research based industry fully supports and welcomes this programme.”
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Notes to Editor
The ABPI represents innovative research-based biopharmaceutical companies, large, medium and small, leading an exciting new era of biosciences in the UK.
Our industry, a major contributor to the economy of the UK, brings life-saving and life-enhancing medicines to patients. Our members supply 90 per cent of all medicines used by the NHS, and are researching and developing over two-thirds of the current medicines pipeline, ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of helping patients prevent and overcome diseases.
The ABPI is recognised by government as the industry body negotiating on behalf of the branded pharmaceutical industry, for statutory consultation requirements including the pricing scheme for medicines in the UK.