Patients could suffer as drug costs threaten to bankrupt NHS

Patients may miss out on vital drugs as doctors warned that high costs could cause the health service in Scotland to fall behind other UK nations.
Shona Robison: Urged drug firms to set fairer prices. Picture: John DevlinShona Robison: Urged drug firms to set fairer prices. Picture: John Devlin
Shona Robison: Urged drug firms to set fairer prices. Picture: John Devlin

Expensive new medicines could “bankrupt the NHS” and create a postcode lottery for patients north of the Border, an election hustings hosted by the British Medical Association heard.

Ian Devine, a haematology registar at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, said new drugs for blood cancers were so expensive that they could account for a quarter of NHS Lothian’s medicines budgets by 2020.

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Health Secretary Shona Robison said Scotland had a robust process for making decisions on drugs and urged the pharmaceutical industry to consider offering a fairer price for medicines.

Dr Devine said: “In haematology we are about to have a crisis effectively. A lot of new drugs are coming out at the moment that are exceptionally expensive. There is a growing concern amongst myself and my colleagues that the Scottish Government is not going to be able to fund these drugs any more despite the fact they have a good evidence base.

“This could bankrupt the NHS quite simply. Our main concern is that Scotland could fall behind here and we could have a postcode lottery.”

Campaigners called for a debate on the issues as pressures on NHS budgets are set to increase as more effective drugs are developed.

Diana Jupp, of cancer charity Bloodwise, said: “Many of the new treatments will not cure cancer, but when taken daily will minimise the impact of the disease to allow people to live normal lives for years, even decades.”

New medicines targeted at individual patients could help to save money and some manufacturers have slashed their prices after negotiations with the NHS, but she said these measures were not enough to resolve the situation alone.

A spokesman for the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), which rules on which medicines to approve for use on the NHS, said: “Many new treatments for leukaemia will be eligible for SMC’s more flexible decision making processes that are in place for end of life and orphan medicines.

“However, SMC members also have to think about the potential impact on every patient treated as NHS Scotland does not have unlimited funds.”

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Sandra Auld, of ABPI, the industry body, said: “We understand all governments have to make difficult choices about how to spend their budgets, but Scottish patients see poorer access to medicines than patients across the EU, despite some medicines being less expensive in the UK.”