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Using a Tory loophole, millionaire businessmen have taken £262million a year out of the NHS. This money, equivalent to 7000 junior doctors, has been stripped from the NHS to become private profit. And guess who’s being paid to advise on drug pricing? Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley!

The startling figures came to light after a seemingly bewildered Jeremy Hunt called in the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after it emerged that 32 drugs had seen price hikes of up to 1000% in 5 years. A further 196 have seen their prices doubled. In the most extreme case hydrocortisone tablets, a common allergy medicine, have risen by 12500% – from 70p in 2008 to £85 today. That’s what I call inflation.

The greedy “entrepreneurs” exemplify the worst kinds of vulture capitalists. They buy up exclusive marketing rights to off-patent medicines and then hike the prices. All they need to do is re-brand the product with its generic name, as generic products have no NHS price controls whilst named products do. This obvious loophole can then be exploited to raise the price of medicines to record highs.

The lack of NHS price control is because off-patent medicines are supposed to have high levels of competition, driving prices down. But in reality older medicines tend to be ignored by most pharmaceutical companies in favour of newer, more profitable drugs. This leaves the vulture capitalists as the only ones in the market and able to do as they please.

This includes raising the price of antidepressants from £5.71 to £154 a packet. Let that sink in.

Part of the reason this loophole has been allowed to exist for so long is a lack of accountability. Andrew Lansley’s health service reforms allow different groups to blame one another and ultimately little gets done. Ultimately responsibility for pricing decisions lies not with the NHS but with the Department for Health, who Labour have implored to close the loophole immediately.

Of course, should Hunt wish to understand profiting from the vulture capitalism that so shocks him and hurts our NHS, he may wish to speak to Andrew Lansley. Following on from his successful privatisation by stealth, Lansley is now paid to advise three pharmaceutical companies. One of which, Roche, has attracted criticism for its own pricing.

Roche’s £90,000 price tag for its breast cancer drug has left it unaffordable on the NHS. Of course it bears reminding that Lansley was hired to advise on how to price such medicines. It’s a good wheeze if you can get it – hand people the keys to someone else’s car with one hand whilst helping to fence it with the other.

Oddly, Mr Lansley‘s advisory period ended shortly before the scrounging pharma companies were turned down by the NHS. Perhaps his pricing advice isn’t so sound after all.

Given concerns over NHS funding, it seems unfortunate that Mr Hunt has taken so long to act on this loophole. Perhaps he should speak to Mr Lansley to see if he can pull any strings.

ADDENDUM:
None of this is intended to imply that Mr Lansley has abused his position or had ulterior motives in his decision to privatise the NHS. Nor did he have an ulterior motive when he was paid £21,000 by CARE UK, a beneficiary of his NHS reforms. Nor did he have an ulterior motive when paid by various fast food industries shortly before deciding we were too strict on them. Mr Lansley is an upstanding politician who definitely didn’t flip his home for personal profit.

 

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