It's time to get privatised medicines out of our public health system

03 December 2018

It’s good news for the NHS and patients. After years of big pharma having patent control over a medicine and hiking up its price extortionately, a drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, adalimumab, is being replaced with much cheaper alternatives. It's set to save the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds.

This news comes at a critical time when the cost of medicines for the NHS is at an all-time high. In the last year the NHS spent a whopping £20 billion on drugs. That’s a jump of 10% since last year. Even with a financial boost from the government this year, this cost is still rising much faster than the NHS budget. And it will continue to for as long as the NHS is held ransom by corporate giants that put profits above public health needs.

The record breaking cost savings made from buying cheaper versions of adalimumab was only possible because the drug’s patent expired. For years a big pharma company held a monopoly over the medicine - no other pharmaceutical company could come in and make the medicine at a cheaper price. As a result, the NHS has been forced to spend a total of £2.9 billion on this medicine in the past ten years.

It’s made worse when you know that the research that went into developing this medicine was funded by the public. In fact, for the second year running, the NHS spent £1 billion on medicines which were researched and developed through public funding. It’s a scandal. It’s time we had public return on public investment by attaching conditions to medicines produced through substantial public funding and making sure they are affordable for the NHS and patients at the end. This is something we can and must do now.

It has taken years for adalimumab to be bought at a cheaper price and for years it's been the drug that the NHS has spent the most on. But there are still patients who are denied access to drugs because the NHS cannot afford them. One example that’s hit the media recently is a drug that treats the life-shortening condition, cystic fibrosis. Orkambi costs an astounding £104,000 per patient per year. After years of negotiations, the manufacturer, Vertex, is still refusing to offer this life-changing drug at a price the NHS can afford.

It’s outrageous that access to affordable medicines, and those funded by the public, should be at the mercy of big pharma’s patents and profits. We treasure the principles that founded our NHS - public healthcare for all, free at the point of use. But it’s undermined by a system that privatises medicines, in the hands of corporations that prize their profits over public health.

In a year when the NHS drugs bill is higher than ever, we need to continue to fight for a health system that puts people above profits. Starting with attaching conditions to publicly funded medicines, we need to take bold steps to ensure medicines are accessible and democratically controlled in the interest of public health not corporate profit. For that we also need transformative changes to the way medicines are produced.

Find out more in our new briefing.


You can also ask your MP to take action and ensure publicly-funded medicines are affordable for all.



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