Medacs Healthcare

FEB 20/2015

NHS medicine price too high

The latest analysis has suggested that NHS England is paying too much for medicines, according to a new BBC report.

The analysis from researchers at the University of York cites specialist cancer drugs as an area where there is especially poor value, meaning that less funds can be channelled into other patient services.

Setting a price that is too high, which is controlled by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is the main problem. However, the body states that lowering prices could limit the NHS in terms of what new therapies it can invest in.

This is because the NHS has to balance the cost of new treatments with ensuring that patient care remains high. To make this judgement, NICE uses the quality-adjusted life years (QALY) scale, which analyses the cost of any drug across a year and determines how much it could improve or extend lives.

Currently, this means that if a drug costs more than £20,000 per QALY it is generally not considered to be cost-effective. However, the team at the University of York believe the cut-off should be closer to £13,000 to allow the NHS to reap the most benefits.

The analysis argues that, when drugs at the higher end of the current bracket are recommended, funds are taken away from other services. This could lead to more people dying from common health problems like cancer, as well as heart and lung issues.

In contrast, the fund for cancer drugs, which is separate to general funds, allows for more expensive life-extending medications. The report suggests that, for each healthy year gained by this fund, five QALYs could be lost across the NHS.

Co-author Prof Karl Claxton told the BBC: "Our research makes the unidentified NHS patients who bear the real costs a little more real.

"The increasing pressure to approve new drugs more quickly at prices that are too high will only increase the harm done to NHS patients overall."

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