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Experts hit out at rising cost of UK drug prices


Experts believe Britain can slash the price of medicine for patients by buying more products from generic companies over big brands. Branded and generic medicine in the UK costs around five per cent more than the global average, compared to it being 73 per cent cheaper in India (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images).
Experts believe Britain can slash the price of medicine for patients by buying more products from generic companies over big brands. Branded and generic medicine in the UK costs around five per cent more than the global average, compared to it being 73 per cent cheaper in India (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

 

By Nadeem Badshah

MIGRANTS and visitors to the UK are faced with huge bills due to the cost of life-saving medicine and rising NHS immigration fees, a charity has warned.

A study of 50 countries found the US has the most expensive medication in the world, with the UK in 21st place and India in 46th.

Experts believe Britain can slash the price of medicine for patients by buying more products from generic companies over big brands.

Branded and generic medicine in the UK costs around five per cent more than the global average, compared to it being 73 per cent cheaper in India.

People visiting the UK from abroad and immigrants have to pay for NHS treatment, which can lead to them having a bill of hundreds of pounds for drugs.

Nazek Ramadan, director of the Migrant Voice charity, told Eastern Eye: “When medication is expensive, this is a problem for every person in that society – but in the UK, it’s often migrants who feel the costs the most.

“There’s the rising NHS surcharge – currently £400 per person per year – which every non-EU migrant in the UK has to pay, and upfront charges for healthcare for visitors and migrants considered ineligible for treatment.

“For many, the costs are simply unaffordable and they become stuck in cycles of debt. Others can’t afford vital treatment so avoid having it. It’s a dysfunctional system that devalues human lives.”

The research looked at the average price of medicine for conditions including erectile dysfunction, anxiety disorders, cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol, asthma, bacterial infection and diabetes.

Patients in the UK pay 75 per cent more for a drug to treat cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol, compared to the global average; they also pay 57 per cent more for medicines for epilepsy and anxiety.

Health experts said buying more generic brands can lead to lower prices for patients, but cautioned safety tests on pills in the UK can also lead to higher costs.

Daniel Kolb, managing director of digital healthcare provider Medbelle which carried out the study, said when it comes to prices in the UK compared to India, the research shows how laws and the cost towards patented branded drugs and generic compounds impacts how much money is spent on medicine.

He told Eastern Eye: “People in the UK for instance have, in general, better access to branded drugs than people from India, likely due to purchasing power and patent rights.

“So while the UK appears to spend more on medicine than India, the reality is people from India buy more generic compounds than branded ones, hence the lower overall costs.

“In India, some of the branded drugs – like the incredibly expensive arthritis medicine Humira (Adalimumab) – are not available, at least to the general public.

“Not only can the UK afford branded drugs, but there is also some reason to believe that original patented compounds are considered more ‘trustworthy’ by consumers, which might be one explanation.

“If the UK wants to cut down medicine costs, investing in more generic brands over branded ones is one way to save money.”

Professor Mahendra Patel, an associate member of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, believes the UK has one of the highest safety quality assurances in the world.

He added: “Our medicines are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, so the patient knows the standard and quality.

“You have the full assurance of that, it gives the patient peace of mind. In other countries, it may not be regulated to that level.

“I’m not saying it justifies the cost, but there is a high level of scrutiny and assurance before drugs comes out on the market.

“While it could be cheaper in other non-Western countries, do they know who is supplying it, the storage conditions, ingredients? Safety comes first.”

 

Political rivals row over drug prices
A ROW has erupted between the Conservatives and Labour over potential NHS drug price increases.

It emerged that George Hollingbery, then a UK trade minister, held a meeting with US drugs giant Eli Lilly last year to discuss “future trade” deals post-Brexit.

The revelation backs Labour’s claim the Tories may selloff the NHS to Donald Trump and US pharmaceutical firms.

Jeremy Corbyn has warned NHS drug prices would rise in a deal signed with the US president.

The Labour leader revealed a 451-page dossier last week on initial talks which he argued proved the health service was “for sale”.

Barry Gardiner, shadow secretary of state for international trade, said: “A trade deal with Trump could drain £500 million a week from the NHS to US corporations. This is more evidence the NHS is on the table.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the claims were “nonsense” and the NHS would not be part of formal talks. The Tory manifesto states neither the price paid for drugs or NHS services will be “on the table”.