Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill

Mike Wood: Has my right hon. Friend made any assessment of how the prices of the drugs quoted in the article in The Times compare with those paid in other health services and by healthcare providers in other western European countries?


Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

We have made some assessments of those things, but, in essence, our concern is that, even without comparisons with what is happening in other countries, we are talking about totally unreasonable behaviour. I mentioned one example earlier, but I can give another of a medicine whose price increased by 3,600% between 2011 and 2016. I just do not think we can justify that. Given that we want to have strong, harmonious, positive relationships between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry, we need to eliminate the possibility of that kind of behaviour happening in the future.

This Bill therefore amends the 2006 Act to allow the Government to control prices of these medicines, even when the manufacturer is a member of the voluntary PPRS scheme. We intend to use the power only where there is no competition in the market and companies are charging the NHS an unreasonably high price. We will engage with the industry representative body, which is also keen to address this practice, on how we will exercise this power.

The final element of the Bill will strengthen the Government’s powers to collect information on the costs of medicines, medical supplies and other related products from across the supply chain, from factory gate to those who supply medicines to patients. We currently collect information on the sale and purchases of medicines from various parts of the supply chain under a range of different arrangements and for a range of specific purposes. Some of these arrangements are voluntary, whereas others are statutory. The Bill will streamline the existing information requirements in the 2006 Act relating to controlling the cost of healthcare products. It will enable the Government to make regulations to require all those involved in the manufacture, distribution or supply of health service medicines, medical supplies or other related products to record, keep and provide at request information on sales and purchases. The use of this information would be for defined purposes: the reimbursement of community pharmacies and GPs, determining the value for money that the supply chain or products provide; and controlling the cost of medicines. This will enable the Government to put the current voluntary arrangements for data provision with manufacturers and wholesalers of unbranded generic medicines and manufactured specials on a statutory footing. As the arrangements are currently voluntary, they do not cover all products and companies, which limits the robustness of the reimbursement price setting mechanism.

A statutory footing for these data collections is important so that the Government can run a robust reimbursement system for community pharmacies. I know that some colleagues have raised concerns about the implications of our funding decisions for community pharmacies, and today I want to reassure the House that this Bill does not impact on those decisions, nor does it remove the requirement for consultation with the representative body of pharmacy contractors on their funding arrangements in the future. However, the information power will give us more data on which to base those discussions and decisions, rather than relying on data only available to us under voluntary schemes and arrangements. The information power would also enable the Government to obtain information from across the supply chain to assure themselves that the supply chain is, or parts of it are, delivering value for money for NHS patients and the taxpayer—we cannot do that with our existing fragmented data.