We were delighted to be able to support the Welsh NHS Confederation to undertake, through YouGov, their recent Survey of public opinion from across Wales on the range of services offered by NHS Wales.Taking an independent measurement of the temperature and pulse of the views of the citizens of Wales can provide a useful insight as to its priorities and expectations. Understanding how the public sees the delivery of care is fundamental to allowing the Welsh Government and NHS Wales make appropriate changes to the future delivery of services, as well as allowing them to be implemented in a consistent and considered way.
This Survey also gave us the opportunity to ask the Welsh public how they feel about the discovery and value of innovative medicines and treatments. What is clear from the Survey is that people in Wales are acutely aware of the positive contribution that medicines make to their health and wellbeing. Of the respondents, 92% believed medicines make an important (62%) or limited (30%) contribution to good health and perhaps equally as important, only 2% of the population believe that medicines make no contribution to continuing good health.
Of course, there are many factors involved in keeping people well – and supporting patients to get better quickly when they become ill. We all admire and rely on the healthcare professionals making difficult decisions every day in the treatment of their patients and the myriad of other innovative treatments that deliver better health.
However, when we look at developments in health and wellbeing, life expectancy and quality of life, we see that the pharmaceutical industry, with its medicines and vaccines, is responsible for a large part of that progress. Vaccines alone have prevented more death and disease than anything except the provision of clean water. Smallpox has been eradicated. Polio is virtually eliminated in the developed world. The value of these and other key treatments should never be underestimated.
Diseases that used to be killers no longer carry that threat. Leukemia, if diagnosed early, can be driven into remission with a once-daily treatment. Cardiovascular disease, which not many years ago often resulted in bypass surgery, can now be managed easily with tablets. Improvements in cancer treatment have cut annual death rates by half.
As well as the value to individuals, the industry also provides great value to society. It keeps people in work and out of hospital. That alone should put the industry’s value balance sheet in profit.
At a time when there is a fundamental change needed in the configuration of services by NHS Wales, the role and value of medicines could be key to its future. In America, where their insurance based health system is acutely aware of ensuring a “bang for its buck”, for every dollar spent on prescription medicines, more than two dollars are saved in hospitalisation costs. In some instances, the efficiencies are even greater, for example for every $24 spent on new medicines for Cardio-Vascular Disease savings of $89 in hospitalisation costs are made.
Perhaps NHS Wales needs to better accept that medicines can represent a saving to their systems and they’re not simply a cost to be squeezed, which is how they are often managed. Indeed, this was a message rehearsed by the Minister for Health, Mark Drakeford, AM in the Assembly only last week; that access to medicines leads to “the avoidance of treatment—expensive treatment..”
Wales needs to ensure that short term cost considerations and pressures across our healthcare system do not undermine the potential of longer term efficiencies. This will have a net result that long term healthcare costs will actually increase: patients will not get early access to innovative medicines as Wales continues to slip down the table of innovative medicines use.
The pharmaceutical industry recognises the financial challenges facing healthcare across the UK and has stepped up to the plate by agreeing to underwrite any increase in the UK branded medicines bill for two years. Here in Wales, we have called on the Welsh Government and NHS Wales to respond positively to this unique opportunity to demonstrate their active commitment to improving patients’ access to the latest medicines. We have five years to fix the access problems so that patients get the best quality healthcare they deserve and the medicines they obviously value.
It is important that all the sectors involved in supporting patients – the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, patient organisations and industries such as ours – work together to make the necessary changes to healthcare – and deliver the healthcare system our patients value and deserve.
ABPI Cymru Wales Director