Friday, March 07, 2008

Pharmaceutical Accused of "Cheating" NHS

Here is the real problem facing the NHS. Corporations and doctors are doing their level best to destroy the NHS and create the right environment for it to be abolished and replaced with a more lucrative (for them anyway) system. The latest example of corporate attempts to damage public healthcare, concerns the activities of Reckitt Benckiser. The following is taken from The Guardian:

A drug company faces accusations of cheating the NHS by blocking a generic version of Gaviscon, the lucrative treatment for indigestion.

Internal documents leaked from Reckitt Benckiser reveal the existence of Project Eric, a secret plan by the company to manipulate doctors and regulators.

Gaviscon is one of Britain's most common remedies, prescribed in large quantities to people with heartburn. It costs little to produce but its high price makes millions for its Hull-based manufacturer. Although Gaviscon has been out of patent for almost 10 years, a cheap generic version wanted by the government has never been developed. Such a drug could have saved the NHS up to £40m.

The leaked documents reveal in detail how the company blocked the generic version. It is a tactic known in the pharmaceuticals business as "evergreening".

The company says the memos were "inappropriate" and did not reflect Reckitt's eventual actions.

Extracts, due to be broadcast tonight on BBC Newsnight, disclose Reckitt's plan to manipulate regulators on supposed safety grounds, threaten legal challenges and spin out procedures.

Generic drugs are a real threat to the major pharmaceuticals. When a patent on a drug expires, they no longer have a monopoly on the market, this allows generic equivalents to be produced at a cheaper cost (without affecting quality). Cheaper generics = loss of business for pharmaceuticals. It also means massive financial savings for the NHS which can then be plowed into life saving equipment, or better paid nurses and medical staff. Of course, the more the big corporations can extract from the NHS, the more damage it does to our system of healthcare, paving the way for a system based on insurance that would penalise the poorest citizens.

There is a way that all of us can take action regarding this issue. Doctors are often persuaded to prescribe branded drugs by the big pharmaceuticals, rather than the cheaper generic versions. As I have said above, this costs the NHS huge sums of money unnecessarily. So, next time you get a prescription from your doctor, ask that s/he prescribes the name of the drug rather than the brand name. When taking your prescription along to a pharmacy, they are obliged to dispense the generic version and hence save the NHS lots of money (not to mention making you feel good about yourself for being so conscientious). The big pharmaceuticals may not like it, but what is more important, universal healthcare or corporate profit?