Medicines (Parallel Exports)

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 30th March 2010.

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Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, South West Norfolk 2:30 pm, 30th March 2010

What steps he is taking to reduce parallel exports of medicines.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

In November, the Government and medicines supply chain stakeholders published joint guidance to manufacturers and wholesalers on their existing legal responsibilities. On 2 March, the Government hosted a summit at which we agreed a further package of actions to ensure that patients continue to get the medicines that they need.

Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, South West Norfolk

What estimate has been made of the amount of potential research and development money that is lost to British firms as a result of parallel trading?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

Research and development money is only part of the issue. The key issue is that patients are sometimes not getting the medicines that they need. That is what parallel exporting is all about; it is not so much about the research and development that takes place in a number of centres. When patients go to the chemist, they want to know that the medicines they need will be there.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

I acknowledge that this is a complex issue, and that it has been exacerbated by the weak pound and the Government's renegotiation of the prescription pricing regulation scheme. However, parallel exporting has resulted in a shortage of nearly 50 medicines in the UK, including those needed for the treatment of cancer and transplant patients. The issue first arose in 2008, and the number of export licences has grown exponentially since then. Why has it taken the Government so long to begin to address this serious issue, and why does the Minister not insist that patients must come first and introduce tighter controls on access to medicine export licences?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health

It is certainly the case that we dealt with this issue during the course of last year and we also published the guidance, to which I have referred, in the same period. Furthermore, at the summit we held with stakeholders at the start of this month, a package of proposals was agreed, including a more explicit duty on manufacturers and wholesalers to provide medicine to NHS patients, target inspections by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority, tougher standards for licensing medical wholesalers and best practice guidance on how to deal with supply difficulties. We need to consult on some of those issues. Those consultations are already taking place; indeed, there are meetings going on today.