Letter: Don't blame patients

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Sir: The UK-based pharmaceutical industry fully agrees with Polly Toynbee (article, 6 October) when she seeks to provide an evidence-based basis for NHS treatment. But for the NHS to cut the medicines bill would end up costing far more than it would save.

Not only do doctors in the UK already prescribe fewer medicines than most of their counterparts abroad, but they also prescribe more generics, with well over 50 per cent of prescriptions now written generically. It is not true that the NHS pays more than any other country for medicines. Of 15 OECD countries, Britain is 14th in terms of expenditure on medicines per head, just above Ireland.

Over the past 40 years, advances in the use of medicines have helped to free up hospital beds by reducing the number of admissions by half for 12 major disease areas alone. The resulting annual saving of about pounds 10bn is double the cost of all NHS medicines.

While measures to restrict the availability of medicines might yield short-term savings, in the long term they will drive up costs in other sectors of healthcare, such as hospital surgery and community care. Medicines are part of the answer to the NHS's funding problems, not the cause.


Director General

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

London SW1