Tories call for new UK-wide system to buy medicines

The Scottish Conservatives are seeking a meeting with health ministers across the UK in a bid to set up a single mechanism for the purchase of drugs which is currently devolved in Scotland.

Breast screening for cancer. Breast cancer drug Perjeta is still only available south of the border. Picture: Jane Barlow

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs is calling for a new system to purchase drugs and medical equipment and is championing a “once for the UK approach”.

This flies in the face of the current process which sees the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) review new drugs that have received a licence before deciding if they can be made available for routine prescription.

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The move comes as Westminster health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced a new deal is being finalised with the pharmaceutical industry with the aim of saving the NHS £1 billion on medicines.

The new Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access will also lead to a more flexible and streamlined commercial process which Hancock said will make the UK more attractive to investors. The scheme will cap spending across the UK and Scotland will receive a share of payments according to an approach agreed between the Scottish Government and the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Briggs has highlighted the recent case of breast cancer drug Perjeta, which can extend life expectancy by 16 months, being made available to patients in England but not Scotland, after the SMC rejected it for prescription four times.

He has also raised concerns about the availability of so-called “ultra-orphan” drugs that are used to treat very rare conditions.

Briggs said: “If we are truly going to make sure Scottish patients can access the new medicines and achieve value for money for the public purse then we need to look towards the economies of scale.

“At present we do not have a mechanism to deliver UK-wide purchasing of medicines, especially in relation to ultra-orphan drugs like Orkambi for cystic fibrosis and we see situations where medicines such as the secondary breast cancer drug Perjeta are being made available to patients in England but not Scotland.

“Given the increase in the cost of drugs which the NHS is facing it is vital we try to achieve better value for money.”

Alison Culpan, director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the new voluntary scheme will give the NHS “total certainty” the sales of branded medicines won’t grow at more than 2 per cent in any of the next five years.

She added: “Each devolved nation is responsible for its own spending in line with their health priorities, which may differ dependent upon need. We are working with SMC and the Scottish Government on a new ultra-orphan pathway to make it easier for patients to get speedy access to these much needed medicines”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not agree with this suggestion. Scottish Government investment over recent years has greatly increased patients’ access to new medicines – and we are already working with the other UK administrations to increase transparency in pricing.”