• Stephen Whitehead

    Posted in category Opinion by Stephen Whitehead on 07/06/2013

    Radical thinking is needed to address the rising burdens on the NHS

The joint report by the NHS Confederation, National Voices and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges highlights once again the scale of the long-term funding challenges facing the NHS. The report also demonstrates starkly the need for radical thinking about how these financial challenges can be managed.


​As I have written before, efforts to address these financial pressures must not be at the expense of the quality of services and patient outcomes. By continuing to develop life-extending and life-transforming innovative medicines, the pharmaceutical industry is playing a vital role in addressing current and future financial challenges.

Medicines are part of the solution to rising health and financial pressures. Medicines not only provide benefits in terms of health outcomes – saving life, extending life, and improving the quality of life – they provide much broader value to people and society, for example by helping people return to and stay in work. The appropriate use of medicines can help to save the NHS money by reducing the need for longer term, more expensive treatment, such as surgical treatment and in-patient stays. Several examples of these cost savings, in areas such as hypertension, eczema and contraception, can be seen on NICE’s website. Medicines can also support a shift in care from hospitals into the community – a point which goes to the heart of this report. They should not be seen as an easy target for savings.

It is crucial to recognise that cuts to medicines expenditure will not deliver the level of transformative change required to meet the financial challenges outlined in this report. Medicines have not been the significant driver of spending growth in NHS expenditure in recent years. Analysis shows that expenditure on branded medicines as a percentage of total NHS expenditure will continue to fall from 7.8% per year in 2007 to an estimated 7.2% per year by 2015.

Further cuts to the medicines budget will not only fail to deliver the efficiencies required, they could also lead to poorer patient outcomes – potentially marking a backwards step for the NHS. If we are to deliver the high quality services which people demand, and deserve, a fundamental review of service design and expenditure is needed to uncover those areas of expenditure which should be scrutinised in order to deliver a sustainable NHS in the long-term. 

Stephen Whitehead
ABPI Chief Executive

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