Duty to have regard to the life sciences sector and access to new medicines and treatments

Part of Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 15th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:29 pm, 15th March 2017

I remind the House of the importance of this Bill. NHS spending on medicines is second only to staffing costs. The NHS in England spent more than £15 billion on medicines during 2015-16, a rise of nearly 20% since 2010-11. With advances in science and our ageing population, the costs will only continue to grow.

The UK has a lot to be proud of: we have a world-class science base and an excellent reputation for the quality and rigour of our clinical trials and the data they produce. The UK has one of the strongest life sciences industries in the world, generating turnover of more than £60 billion each year. Indeed, it is our most productive industry. The Government are deeply committed to supporting it to flourish and, in doing so, to provide jobs and transform the health of the nation.

In the 2016 autumn statement, an additional £4 billion of investment in research and development was announced, specifically targeted at industry-academia collaboration. We expect the life sciences industry to be a substantial beneficiary. That comes on top of measures such as the patent box and the R and D tax credits that the Government have introduced to encourage investment from innovative businesses.

That determined action is reaping rewards. The UK ranks top among the major European economies for foreign direct investment projects in life sciences. Last month, the Danish drugs company Novo Nordisk announced a new £115 million investment in a science research centre in Oxford. That comes on top of an additional investment of £275 million announced by GSK last June and AstraZeneca reaffirming its commitment to a £390 million investment to establish headquarters and a research centre in Cambridge—it is good to see Daniel Zeichner in his place. Looking ahead, Professor Sir John Bell, the regius professor of medicine at Oxford, has agreed to lead the development of a new life sciences strategy for the long-term success of UK.

At the same time, it is important that we secure better value for money for the NHS from its growing spend on medicines and other medical supplies. I remind the House that, overall, the Bill will do three things. First, it will enable us broadly to align our statutory scheme for the control of prices of branded medicines with our voluntary scheme, by introducing the possibility of a payment percentage for the statutory scheme. That could deliver £90 million of savings annually for the NHS. Secondly, the Bill will give us stronger powers to set the prices of unbranded generic medicines if companies charge unwarranted prices in the absence of competition.

Thirdly, the Bill will give us stronger powers to require companies in the supply chain for medicines, medical supplies and other related products to provide us with information. We will use that information to operate our pricing schemes, to reimburse community pharmacies for the products they dispense and to assure ourselves that the supply chain of specific products provides value for money for the NHS and the taxpayer.

During the Bill’s passage through the other place, the Government tabled 23 amendments, following debate and discussion in this House and with peers. I firmly believe that those amendments make it a better Bill. However, I will start with Lords amendment 3 and set out the reasons why it does not improve the Bill.

Lords amendment 3 would introduce a duty on the Government, in exercising their functions to control costs, to have “full regard” to the need to

“promote and support a growing life sciences sector” and the need to ensure that patients have access to new medicines. The amendment would undermine one of the core purposes of the Bill by hindering the ability of the Government to put effective cost controls in place. Controlling the prices of medicines cannot, in itself, promote the interests of the life sciences sector and deliver growth. Having such a requirement in legislation could encourage companies to bring legal challenges where the cost controls have not, in themselves, promoted growth in the life sciences industry. That could significantly hinder the Government’s ability to exercise their powers to control costs effectively.

For example, if the Government were to take action to control the price of an unbranded generic medicine, because it was clear that the company was exploiting the NHS—several examples of that have been raised throughout the Bill’s passage through this House—it could be argued that that action did not promote the life sciences sector, because every generic drugs manufacturer could argue that it is a life sciences company. Nevertheless, that would, of course, be the right thing to do for the NHS, for patients and for taxpayers. Lords amendment 3 would enable companies to challenge any action by the Government to control costs by arguing that proper regard had not been given to supporting a growing life sciences industry. The amendment would therefore make it more difficult to control costs, including where companies seek to exploit the NHS over and above the interests of patients, clinicians and taxpayers.

I say gently to those on the Labour Benches that it is ironic that they talk tough on the pharma companies, which they claim in other forums routinely seek to exploit the NHS, when today they are arguing the cause of the industry by supporting an amendment that would provide it with a legal stick with which to challenge the NHS when it seeks to control the costs of drugs, some of which, as they acknowledge, are exorbitantly priced. I therefore have to ask Justin Madders: whose side is Labour on?

The Government are seriously concerned that Lords amendment 3 has the potential to impact negatively on our ability to control costs. I do not expect that that was the aim of well-intentioned Members in the other place. I hope both Houses agree that it would be damaging to the NHS if, on every occasion that the Government deem it necessary to use their powers to control costs, the Government could be challenged for failing to give full regard to promoting the interests of life sciences companies.

The second part of Lords amendment 3 requires the Secretary of State to have full regard to the need for NHS patients to benefit from swift access to innovative medicines that have been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence through its technology appraisals. However, NHS commissioners are already legally required to fund drugs and other treatments recommended in NICE technology appraisal guidance, normally within three months of final guidance. The Secretary of State’s power to control costs is a completely separate process. Therefore, this part of the amendment would not achieve anything.