Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 17:58 GMT
Drugs industry hits back
Pharmaceutical industy could be damaged by cutbacks
Any attempt by the government to clamp down on the cost of drugs will cause serious damage to the pharmaceutical industry and reduce its ability to develop new medicines, experts have warned.
The government is intent on cutting the NHS drugs bill, which has soared to £6 billion a year.
But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) believes any attempt to cut profits could drive manufacturers away and damage a business which, after North Sea oil, in the biggest export earner in the UK.
The ABPI is particularly concerned about the Government's plans to create a National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to ensure the clinical effectiveness of new drugs.
It has published a booklet detailing the industry's achievements and is to launch an advertising campaign in the media under the slogan "take care of an industry that takes care of Britain".
Fat cat industry
The move is a bid to dispel the widely held view that pharmaceuticals is a "fat cat" industry.
Dr Trevor Jones, director general of the ABPI, said he was becoming increasing worried that NHS patients in the future will not reap the same benefits from UK drug discovery as they have in the past.
He said: "The industry is concerned about barriers being put in the way of medicines reaching patients.
"Many medicines are already being prescribed by postcode - a patient on one side of the street may not receive a treatment given to a neighbour because they live in different health authority areas.
"While the Government has not yet published its final plans for the new National Institute for Clinical Excellence, there are worrying signs that undue emphasis is being placed on the cost of new treatments rather than their overall value to both patients and the country at large."
The pharmaceutical industry has come under fire recently for hikes in the price of some drugs.
These include syntometrine, a treatment given to women to prevent haemorraghing after birth. The price of a single dose rose from 18p to £1.40 after the manufacturer's licence was sold by Novartis to Alliance Pharmaceuticals.
The pharmaceutical price regulation scheme, allows drug companies to set their own prices for drugs as long as they do not pass certain profit limits, has attracted criticism from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The government is said said to be considering plans to reform the scheme and even to scrap it following criticism in connection with the debate over drug rationing and Viagra.
According to some sources, an announcement could be made about the future of the scheme in the Queen's speech next week.
A Department of Health spokesman said the Government plans for medicines were designed with patients' interests at heart.
He said: "For the first time, patients and local NHS staff will have access through Nice to a single source of advice about best practice.
"Effective new treatments should be available quickly and patients will be protected."