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Switch to ‘best value’ medicines saves NHS millions

12:00am | & Health

You know how you can save money by buying the supermarket’s ‘own brand’ cereal instead of the more expensive original branded product?

Over time those savings can really add up – but not to the £700 million which the NHS has already saved by doing the same thing on a massive scale with the medicines it buys!

When a new medicine comes onto the market, the pharmaceutical company which invented it has a legal patent preventing any other supplier producing a ‘copycat’ medicine. It enables the company to set its own price to recover development costs and make a profit.

But after 25 years that exclusive patent automatically expires and other companies can produce their own ‘generic’ or ‘biologic’ versions of the medicine. This competition by rival suppliers inevitably means a significant price drop to the buyer, and if it’s a bulk buyer like the NHS it could negotiate an even better deal.

An NHS-wide campaign supporting doctors and patients to maximise the use of these cheaper but no-less-effective generic treatments is reaping big rewards. New figures show that the uptake of best value medicines lowered costs to taxpayers by £294 million last year alone, on track to meet its ambitious target of a further £400 million annual savings by 2021.

The campaign got a massive boost when the patent on a single drug – adalimumab – expired at the end of 2018. Widely used to treat arthritis and other conditions, it topped the list of medicines which hospitals previously spent most money on, costing more than £400 million a year. Now that cost has tumbled as NHS organisations negotiate new deals to buy the drug from a range of suppliers at a fraction of the cost. It has already saved the NHS more than £109 million for this single drug alone.

Savings for 2018-19 come on top of the £413 million saved from the annual medicines bill in the previous two years by maximising the use of best value generic and biologic treatments. Taken together they mean the campaign to drive take-up has seen more than £700 million freed up to reinvest in other effective medicines.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS is one of the most efficient health services in the world, but as part of the Long Term Plan we will continue to drive changes to ensure every NHS pound is spent wisely and patients have access to innovative life-changing medicines.

“Use of the best value versions of expensive medicines is already delivering effective treatment for patients across the NHS, including those with cancer, offering the right care for patients while saving the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

These benefits have only been possible by working closely with patients, clinical teams and NHS trusts. According to NHS guidelines, the decision to switch to a best value medicine should always be done in consultation with the patient, through shared decision making.

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