Big pharma is taking the NHS to court this week – people are already dying for profit and it could now get worse

Last year the pharmaceutical giant behind the hepatitis C cure boasted a 45 per cent net profit margin while almost 400,000 around the world people died of the now curable disease. And globally, taxpayers are the biggest funders of early stage medical research which leads to these companies’ profits

Morten Thaysen
Wednesday 12 July 2017 14:48
Rising drug prices, together with austerity measures, are destroying our health service
Rising drug prices, together with austerity measures, are destroying our health service

The UK drug industry is taking the NHS to court over a new price cap on medicines. The drugs price cap is a disaster for patients, but the solution is not taking the NHS to court – it’s tackling the greed of big pharmaceutical companies.

The pharmaceutical industry has established itself firmly at the top of the Forbes list of the most profitable industries in the world. A significant contribution is made by public health services like the NHS. But seemingly, that’s not enough. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has applied for a judicial review against the NHS over its attempt to protect its crumbling budgets from corporate rip-off.

The knowledge that the treatment you need exists, but isn’t available to you, is a more common experience in the UK, as the NHS has to resort to rationing and even straight out rejection of new drugs because they’re too expensive.

The NHS now rejects a third of all new cancer drugs over cost-efficiency concerns, leaving many cancer patients unable to access the treatment they need. And because of astronomical costs, the NHS has had to ration a new groundbreaking cure for hepatitis C to only the very worst cases of more than 200,000 people, leaving the vast majority to continue to suffer from the disease.

Many are quick to point the finger at the NHS over lack of access to medicines. But the fact of the matter is that rising drug prices, together with austerity measures, are destroying our health service. The rise in NHS drug costs in the last five years has now hit more than twice the entire NHS deficit of £1.85bn. It’s because of these skyrocketing drug prices that the NHS took the decision to place a price cap on new drugs earlier this year, allowing them to delay the introduction of new drugs that would cost more than £20m pounds a year.

If we want to secure better access to medicines, we must tackle the problem of high drug prices, and this means transforming the whole way new drugs are developed. Pharmaceutical companies argue that high prices are due to research and development costs. But almost all of the biggest pharmaceutical companies spend substantially more money on marketing than they do on research.

Last year Gilead, the American pharmaceutical giant behind the above-mentioned hepatitis C cure, boasted a 45 per cent net profit margin – which would be unheard of in most industries – while almost 400,000 people died of the now curable disease globally.

This gives some idea of the extent of the problem globally. Imagine the impact on people in countries which don’t even have accessible health systems. The pharmaceutical industry has proved time again they cannot be trusted with the control of vital medicines we need. If we want access to new medical treatments, we need to rethink the way they are controlled.

The UK pours huge sums of money into medical research and development. Globally, taxpayers are the biggest funders of early-stage medical research. But because of few or no conditions of our research, pharmaceutical companies can take over that research and market the resulting drugs at considerable profits. The only way to heal the gaping hole drug prices have cut in NHS finances, it to make sure that we at least demand affordable prices from the drugs that are developed with our tax money.

For the sake of our NHS – and for the billions of people globally who cannot access the medicines they need – we must take back control of the health technology that our tax money is paying for. If we’re lucky, we end up paying twice for our medicines. If we’re unlucky, the consequences are even worse.

There are alternatives, which mean that the private corporations don’t gain intellectual property privileges gained through public funding. Our NHS demands a different answer – one that puts people ahead of profit.

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