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Generic drugs cost pressures ‘unsustainable’, NHSCC says


By Léa Legraien
Reporter
26 July 2018

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Ongoing NHS pressures caused by increased generic drugs costs are ‘unsustainable’, NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) has said.

In a letter addressed to Government body the Health and Social Care Committee on 19 July, NHSCC chief executive Julie Wood said the continued pressure on the NHS from generic medicines pricing are ‘unsustainable’.

In June, Government auditors the National Audit Office (NAO) found that there was an increase in the number of concessionary price requests for ‘no cheaper stock is obtainable’ (NCSO) drugs. There were 709 such requests granted in 2017/18 compared to 282 the previous year – which resulted in ‘significant’ costs for CCGs.

According to the NAO, CCGs spent £315m on generic drugs in 2017/18 as a result of this – compared to £45m in 2016/17 and £58m in 2015/16.

‘£250.5m deficit’

Ms Wood wrote: ‘The unexpected, increased costs of NCSO drugs in 2017/18 contributed significantly to the £250.5m overall deficit that CCGs ended the year with.

‘As they attempted to mitigate these cost pressures, CCGs have had to take difficult decisions about the services that they fund to meet the needs of their populations, which will have resulted in reductions in the availability of treatment and services in some areas.

‘In addition to financial pressures, a lack of availability of NSCO items impacts upon patients who should be in receipt of them, leaving gaps in their care and potentially compromising the safety and quality of their treatment. Switching patients to alternative medicines can result in anxiety and potentially affect clinical effectiveness.’

Ms Wood previously highlighted these concerns in a letter sent to Government auditors the Public Account Committee (PAC) on 26 June, to which the committee is likely to respond in a formal report in the autumn, a PAC spokesperson told Healthcare Leader.

‘An unacceptable situation’

Ms Wood also said that the situation is ‘unacceptable’, as CCGs do not have control over the concessionary pricing structure and therefore are unable to address the cause of the price increases.

Under the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Act 2017, the Government is entitled to regulate the cost of medicines, including for companies that are members of the voluntary pricing scheme for branded medicines.

NHSCC called on the health and social care secretary to ‘utilise his powers under the act to control excessive prices, where appropriate’.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Healthcare Leader: ‘Our number one priority is to ensure that patients have access to safe and effective medicines.

We have some of the cheapest drug prices in Europe and although the number of concessionary prices increased, the overall spend on generic medicines went down compared to last year.’

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