Leading article: The right medicine

Share
Related Topics

Britain is faced with an increasing problem by the trade in counterfeit medicines, according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. It emerges that counterfeiters are targeting the UK's pharmaceutical supply chain, selling counterfeit drugs to wholesalers who supply the NHS.

The attraction for counterfeiters is obvious. Drugs worth hundreds of thousands of pounds are traded in a single transaction in the NHS. If they can tap into this market, it is much more efficient than hawking their counterfeit drugs over the internet. The scale of the problem appears to be growing. Five cases of counterfeit drugs reaching patients through High Street chemists have been detected in the past two years, twice the rate registered in 2004.

The obvious danger this trade poses to public health lies in the absence of any quality control. One counterfeit drug seized by EU customs last year was packaged as a heart drug but contained only brickdust. If someone buys drugs over the internet they must, arguably, be prepared to take their chances. But it is intolerable that someone should be subjected to a risk through the NHS.

However, the reality is that most counterfeit drugs have precisely the same effects as the legitimate ones. Fraudsters want to avoid detection and keep their customers returning. Selling dud or harmful products is not in their interests. In the five cases so far detected in which counterfeit drugs have reached the NHS, no patients have suffered detectable harm.

Some might feel limited sympathy for the drug companies who lose out as a result of this fraud. Pharmaceuticals are increasingly focused on "blockbuster" drugs such as Viagra from which they are making hefty profits. If it turns out someone in China or India can manufacture these "lifestyle" drugs more cheaply, is that not welcome? Why should such producers not be allowed to compete with the pharmaceuticals legally? The answer is intellectual property rights. Genuine drugs are priced to reflect research and development costs. Whatever one's opinion on a particular product, pharmaceuticals firms have a right to profit from their investment. Otherwise no new products would be brought to market.

That is not to say drug companies should have it all their own way, though. The amount spent on drugs has been rising across the developed world in recent years. In the past five years, the drugs bill of the NHS has risen by 46 per cent to £8bn. This pays for nearly 700m items a year. National bulk buyers, including the NHS, should be driving a much harder bargain with the drugs companies. And there is no reason they should not act in concert to bring the prices down. An expanding market has been very good to the drug manufacturers. It is time patients began to reap some rewards too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect