Sir Andrew Dillon, head of the body that approves drugs for the NHS, has hit back against claims by the pharmaceutical industry that he is blocking too many new medicines.
The chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has strongly rejected accusations made by nine drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and Sanofi, that he focuses too much on cost cutting. The companies told the Telegraph that NICE’s processes are damaging the “health of the British public and the wealth of the British economy.”
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Sir Andrew has said he would “like to say yes” to all the medicines that pharmaceutical giants create but “they are not always sufficiently better than the treatments they would replace to justify their cost.” He argued that some “have proved unsafe in general use” and NICE’s “cautious guidance has helped the NHS minimise their impact.” He said: “So it isn’t just because of their cost that the NHS needs to look carefully at whether and how to use them.”
However Sir Andrew has conceded that NICE is open to a “constructive dialogue” over possible changes to its evaluations methods. “Developing new drugs requires a significant investment and the companies who take the risks involved are entitled to make the return that will enable them to invest for the future,” he said. “The NHS has to spread its increasingly constrained resources across everything we expect it to do for us. Reconciling these sometimes competing ambitions requires a constructive dialogue which we have always been open to and which we are actively pursuing now, as we introduce the latest set of changes to our evaluation methods.”
The debate over the cost of medicines follows a deal agreed last week by the Government and pharmaceutical companies to freeze the cost of supplying branded medicines to the NHS. The deal was described by the Government as a “breakthrough” that would save the NHS £1bn in two years. It was billed as voluntary but companies faced a statutory 15pc price cut on their products if they chose not to sign up.
While accepting the price freeze, the nine pharmaceuticals companies argue that it another example of the Government’s narrow focus on cost over innovation.In their joint letter to The Telegraph, they argue that the deal “could have been transformational for Britain” but “instead we believe a critical opportunity has been missed… It has failed to break down the barriers that are currently preventing patients from being treated with the most cutting edge and effective new medicines available.”
They argued that the “UK must urgently focus on better access to new medicines”, while “actions to manage costs should be matched with action to drive better health outcomes”.
“This means setting a new mandate for NICE to make the UK a world leader in the use of innovative, new medicines,” they have written. “The Prime Minister must act to make this happen. Failing to do so could damage Britain’s health and prospects for generations to come.”