More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Industry protects "bargain medicines"

Friday October 12, 11:59 AM

Commentators place too much emphasis on medicine prices and not enough on the wider benefits that drugs bring to the NHS, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

Latest figures on the cost and sale of drugs, in the UK and in other developed countries, reveal that prescription volumes rather than prices are driving up the nation's drugs bill, the association says.

Yet media coverage and comments contained in reports, such as a National Institute for Clinical Excellence review that queried the cost versus benefit ratio of treatment for multiple sclerosis, focus heavily on price alone, it says.

The new figures, according to ABPI, show that more than half of all medicines cost the government less than the £6.10 prescription charge paid by patients.

The association estimates that drugs save the health service £11 billion each year in hospital bed hours - £4 billion more than the NHS drugs bill. It calculates that the average price of medicines has fallen by 12 per cent in real terms over the last 10 years.

"All too often, medicines are represented as a problem for the NHS, which is accused of paying far too much for them," says ABPI president Bill Fullagar. "These figures reveal the truth - that medicines are one of Britain's great bargains."

The ABPI points to Department of Health data which shows that, while the number of prescriptions dispensed rose by 4.2 per cent last year, the medicines bill increased only 3.7 per cent overall - evidence that the factor behind the rising drugs bill is not price but prescription volume.

It argues that rather than spending less on drugs the NHS should spend more, especially on buying more up-to-date treatments. Compared with the US and other European countries, it says, the UK is slow to adopt new treatments, despite having an excellent research base that is bettered only by the US.

"If the NHS wishes to be a world-class service, it has to provide the treatments and modern medicines that are so much more widely used abroad," said Mr Fullagar. "There is no sign in this latest data that the NHS is doing that."

© Health Media Ltd 2001