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

My hon. Friend is right to express that concern. We do not really know where this rebate has ended up, but all Members know from their personal experiences and our debates that across the board rationing is reaching unprecedented levels, particularly for new and innovative treatments. This is not just a manifestation of the financial straitjacket the health service currently operates in, nor is it just a disaster for individual patients, nor is it just an abrogation of the Minister’s responsibility to uphold the fundamental principles of the NHS; it is also a direct threat to the future prosperity of our life sciences industry. In answer to the Minister’s question about whether we are on the side of patients, I say we absolutely are. Proposed new clause 3(b) makes it very clear that we are on the side of patients, and in particular their ability to access new and innovative treatments.

It is impossible to look at the health of the pharmaceutical sector in this country without considering the central issue of access to treatments. The UK is home to about 4,800 life sciences companies and it continues to have the largest pipeline of new discoveries anywhere in Europe. We are all rightly proud of that. However, the fruits of this innovation are increasingly being enjoyed by patients in other parts of the world before NHS patients can benefit. For every 100 European patients who can access new medicines in the first year they are available, just 15 UK patients have the same access. How can anyone look at that and not say that something is going badly wrong?

As I set out in previous debates on the Bill, a recent report by Breast Cancer Now and Prostate Cancer UK showed that NHS cancer patients are missing out on innovative treatments that are available in any other comparable country to the UK. That should surely shame us all, and it looks as though the situation will get worse. A number of cancer charities estimate that the proposals by NICE to introduce a budget impact threshold could affect one in five new treatments. With one of the options available being a longer period for a phased introduction, the worry is that more patients will be denied access to those critical treatments. I thought that this Bill was meant to be the mechanism by which the cost of drugs would be controlled. Can the Minister explain the flaws in the proposed new pharmaceutical price regulation scheme that make this extra method of cost control necessary?

A debate in this place a few weeks ago drew attention to a number of breast cancer drugs, including Kadcyla, Palbociclib and Perjeta, that might no longer be funded due to changes to the cancer drugs fund. Those are but three examples. Media analysis by the King’s Fund found that there were 225 stories relating to rationing of services in 2016, compared with 144 in 2015 and 86 in 2011. There is clearly a trend developing and we need to reverse it.

We do not have much time today, so I shall draw my remarks to a close by reminding the House that this debate touches on many important issues that are all interlinked—three of them in particular. The first involves securing better value for the NHS; the second involves ensuring full and rapid access to treatments for NHS patients; and the third involves the need to support and promote our life sciences sector. The Government will not achieve any of those aims unless they adopt the right approach to all three. The Bill aims to put in place a system that will deal with the first of those aims, which we support. The amendment that we support today seeks to send a clear message to patients and to industry that the Government consider the other two elements equally important. That is why we are so disappointed that they are not prepared to listen to the overwhelming view expressed in the other place and support that amendment. I urge the Minister to reconsider.