Ministers 'allowed huge drug price rises'

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The Government has allowed unscrupulous manufacturers to manipulate the market for unbranded generic drugs, leading to "stratospheric" rises in the cost to the NHS, MPs said yesterday.

The Government has allowed unscrupulous manufacturers to manipulate the market for unbranded generic drugs, leading to "stratospheric" rises in the cost to the NHS, MPs said yesterday.

The price of some generic drugs has risen by 700 per cent in 18 months as suppliers have stockpiled products and created shortages. Tougher market regulation should be considered urgently, the all-party Health Select Committee said.

In a highly critical report, MPs listed seven generic drugs whose prices soared in the year up to September 1999. Frusemide, the diuretic drug given to counter water retention, cost 26 pence for one month's supply in September 1998 but is now priced at £2.14, a rise of 723 per cent.

Ministers sought to limit the damage by announcing an extra £134m for local health authorities yesterday, including £90m for the added cost of generic drugs, as part of next year's financial allocations.

A generic drug is one that has come off patent and is normally cheaper than its branded alternative. The health service is being pressed to increase spending on unbranded drugs to cut costs, but the sharp price rises have reduced the savings.

The Department of Health, which has started a review of the generics market, claimed that it was being manipulated for financial gain.

The committee agreed: "Given the stratospheric price rises of the past 18 months which must have enriched many individuals at the expense of the NHS, we welcome the decision to instigate a wide ranging review of the operation of the generics market."

But the committee criticised the Government's system for controlling shortages as "unsatisfactory".

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