Expensive drugs ‘harming the NHS’

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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More harm than good is being done to NHS patients overall by the approval of costly drugs, research has suggested.

The findings, by health economists at the University of York, also show the NHS is paying too much for new medicines.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the body which looks at the cost-effectiveness of drugs – uses a threshold of £30,000 for each Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY), which is a measure of health combining length and quality of life.

But the research said £13,000 adds one QALY to the lives of NHS patients.

The Cancer Drugs Fund is mentioned in the findings as a particular cause for concern, with the £280 million devoted to it in the current financial year translating to a loss of more than 20,000 QALYs for other patients across the health service.

The research also warned that the amount the health service can afford to pay for the benefits of the new drugs is lower than once thought.

The study said while a new drug costing an extra £10 million each year could add 333 QALYs to the patients it is used to treat, elsewhere other patients across the NHS would lose 773 QALYs with more deaths from cancer and other diseases as well as a lower quality of life for mental health patients.

Co-author Professor Karl Claxton said: “The increasing pressure to approve new drugs more quickly at prices that are too high will only increase the harm done to NHS patients overall.

“The political pressure to support a multinational pharmaceutical sector cannot justify the real harm that has and will continue to be done to NHS patients.”

Co-author Professor Mark Sculpher said: “The research demonstrates that the threshold to gauge cost-effectiveness and how much the NHS can afford to pay for benefits offered by new drugs is a scientific question that can be informed by evidence and analysis.”

Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said: ” Unless you think that drug companies will be prepared to lower their prices in an unprecedented way, using a threshold of £13,000 per QALY would mean the NHS closing the door on most new treatments.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we obviously can’t just say yes to anything and everything.

“We don’t have enough money – and anyway, not everything is worth having.

“And drug companies need the discipline of a critical market to make sure that price matters.

“Over the last 16 years, we’ve achieved a balance between these two extremes that reflects what we believe the public expects the NHS to do.”

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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