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 4:45 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health) 4:45 pm, 15th March 2017

I support the Lords amendments. I believe that they will improve the Bill significantly, and that they draw on many of the points that Opposition Members made during its earlier stages.

When I was asked to lead the debate for the Opposition—it was the first time that I had done so on a Government Bill—I was assured by my colleagues that this Bill was relatively short, but in comparison with the legislation that we passed on Monday, it strikes me as something of an epic. I only hope that we have more success today than we did on Monday with the amendments that were passed in the other place. As with that other Bill, however, the length of this Bill should not in any way detract from its importance. The exploitation of loopholes by a small number of unscrupulous companies left the Government with no option but to act, and we agree with the thrust of the Bill. We welcome the Lords amendments, both those that the Government are supporting today and the amendment relating to a duty to have regard to the life sciences sector and access to new medical treatments.

Let me first deal with the matters on which there is agreement. Lords amendments 1 and 2 relate to special medicinal products. They will do much to improve the reimbursement for specials, given that the current arrangements are in many cases failing to secure value for money for the taxpayer. As the Minister will know, there is a significant price variation between hospital and community care, with the result that many patients are currently denied access to some specials. The amendments could lead to significant savings throughout the NHS by introducing a more cost-effective whole- market procurement system, as well as having the potential to improve access to treatments. I am pleased that there now appears to be cross-party consensus that action is needed. However, I would welcome confirmation from the Minister that any savings made as a result of the amendment will be used to improve access to specials and other new treatments, rather than simply being returned to general budgets.

We also support Lords amendments 4 to 7, which relate to medical supplies. They add a much-needed duty to consult before introducing secondary legislation to control the prices of medical supplies. That goes some way to addressing widespread concerns throughout the sector about the failure to engage before measures relating to medical supplies were introduced in the Bill. Lords amendment 7 would subject the first order to control the prices of medical supplies to the affirmative procedure. That means that if the Government wanted to introduce a new pricing scheme, they would have to convince Parliament that there was a case for doing so.

When we last debated these issues, concerns were expressed that the Government were asking us to give them powers in respect of medical supplies, but were not in a position to tell us how they might be used. The amendment does much to allay those concerns by giving a further opportunity for challenge should Ministers wish to exercise those powers. We are pleased that the Government have given some ground in that regard.

We also welcome Lords amendments 8 to 10, which introduce a trigger mechanism for information-gathering powers. These amendments make it clear that the Government would be required to issue an information notice before they could collect certain types of information. Amendment 9 sets out in detail what information would need to be provided, as well as the related form, manner and timings. Importantly, it would also introduce a right of appeal for those served with an information notice. This again goes some way towards resolving the concerns that we set out in this place about the potentially onerous effect of the new information-gathering powers.

Lords amendments 11 to 14 relate to the provision of information to Welsh Ministers and stem from the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the other place. We welcome these measures, which I understand also have the support of the Welsh Assembly. We also support the remaining amendments, which are consequential.

That leaves us with amendment 3, which would introduce a duty on the Government when implementing the legislation to have regard to the life sciences sector and access to new medicines and treatments. This measure received cross-party support in the other place and I am disappointed that the Government intend to oppose it today.

We strongly support the core of the Bill, which seeks to close loopholes and to secure better value for money for the NHS from its negotiations with the pharmaceutical sector. However, if amendment 3 does not form part of the final legislation, the Bill will be looked upon as a missed opportunity.

The likely departure of the European Medicines Agency raises extremely worrying questions about the future of the life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry in this country. It is reported that up to 20 other countries are now queuing up to host it after it leaves these shores. That shows just what an attractive proposition it is for those looking to say to the sector, “This is a place to invest in.”

We have the strategic disaster of the EMA going against a backdrop of the sector’s investment in R and D already reducing in recent years. Between 2003 and 2011 there was significant growth in spending in this area, eventually reaching a peak of £5 billion. However, by 2014 that had fallen to £4 billion, a reduction of 20% in just three years. We are extremely concerned that the potential loss of the EMA could see this figure fall back even further.

Over the last six years, we have ended up with the worst of all worlds: falling investment in R and D by the pharmaceutical industry and appalling rationing of treatments, leaving patients unable to access a range of medicines and treatments unless they have the means to pay for them privately. Members on both sides are beginning to find it ever more frustrating that when increasingly crude and arbitrary rationing is raised, the response from the Minister is often to agree with the concern, but simply to say that it is a matter for the individual clinical commissioning group in question. How many more times will Ministers sit and listen to huge concerns from every area of the country about treatment being denied to people in desperate situations before they finally accept that the unprecedented levels of rationing are not the consequence of a series of decisions that are unconnected and remote from Government, but a direct result of the systematic underfunding of the health service for the past seven years?