A quarter of NHS medicines are made in India. Why do we want to make them more expensive?
An NHS prescriptions sign

A quarter of NHS medicines are made in India. Why do we want to make them more expensive?

By: Alena Ivanova
Date: 29 November 2022
Campaigns: Pharma

A draft chapter of the UK-India trade negotiations has been leaked – and it shows that the British government is pressuring India to adopt rules that would drive up medicine prices.

If agreed, the UK’s demands would threaten the NHS and have a devastating impact on public health across the world. This has got lost in the political chaos of the last few weeks – so it’s up to us to sound the alarm. That’s why we’re working with campaigning allies at Just Treatment to get the message to every MP in parliament.

The government’s apparent plan is to push through stricter intellectual property (IP) rules on India that would shore up big pharma’s medicine monopolies and drive up the price of cheap generic medicines produced in India. This won’t just harm the global south – a quarter of all medicines used in the NHS come from India’s successful generics industry.

This leak shows once again that this government is beholden to the interests of big pharma, even when it risks people’s health and access to medicines in the UK. We’ve been speaking out about the deeply undemocratic and damaging nature of the UK’s trade talks for several years, and pressure from backbench MPs is one of the main ways to cause a fuss.

Defend access to medicines

India is called ‘the pharmacy of the world’ for good reason – it provides 62% of all vaccines used globally, and is the largest producer of generic drugs in the world. Before we started this campaign, I didn’t realise that 1 in 4 medicines the NHS buys also come from India. Why would our own government risk driving up these prices to help big pharma make more money?

The NHS is already unable to use generic versions of drugs that are patented in the UK – but stifling India’s vital ability to produce generics could force the NHS to rely on expensive branded drugs from profiteering pharma companies for many more years.

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, recently said “it’s important that we get [trade deals] right rather than rush them, and so that’s the approach I’ll take.” This is a change from Liz Truss’s attempts to sign trade deals as soon as possible – and it creates an opportunity for us.

We need MPs to know just how badly wrong the UK’s demands in these negotiations have been.

Sounding the alarm

We recently wrote to the Secretary of State for International Trade to warn her against pursuing this big pharma wish list of demands.

These dodgy demands go far beyond already unfair global requirements and norms for intellectual property and will only benefit one group: the pharmaceutical industry and its shareholders.

Trade negotiations are often shrouded in secrecy and the government will do all it can to avoid accountability. With this leaked draft, we now have an idea what they’re up to, and it’s deeply worrying. With the future of the NHS and the essential medicines of millions at stake, we need to act now.

Take action

Tell your MP to defend access to medicines in the UK-India trade deal >>

Photo: Barry Barnes/Shutterstock