Sunday, August 17, 2008

No More Mr Nice Guy

For too long the media have focused on one side of the story when it comes to the debate about medication. Nice has been portrayed as a vicious, uncaring watchdog seeking to penalise those that require certain medications. That some of this criticism seems to emanate from various pharmaceutical concerns, barely seems worth mentioning. Finally, today's Observer goes some way to addressing this gross distortion and, in turn, reveals the real criminals in the drugs industry.

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins has finally spoken out about the media frenzy surrounding Nice, and what he says makes an awful lot of sense. Sure, the drug companies will be infuriated (and no doubt up their propaganda campaigns), but the truth is for all to see. Drugs companies are overcharging the NHS in order to protect their profits. This needs to stop. If things continue in this fashion, the NHS will be bled dry and the way will be clear for a privatised system somewhat like the one in the US. Free healthcare for all will become a curiosity of the past. Men, women and children will die as a result of a privatised system. Dramatic? Maybe. But there is no doubt that large sections of society will be severely affected by such a change.

Below is a short extract:

The drugs industry is overpricing vital new medicines to boost its profits, the chair of the health watchdog Nice warns today in an explosive intervention into the debate over NHS rationing.

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins spoke out after critics last week accused the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) of 'barbarism' for refusing to approve expensive new kidney drugs for NHS use, on the grounds that they were not cost-effective.

In an outspoken interview with The Observer, he warned of 'perverse incentives' to hike the prices of new drugs - including linking the pay of pharmaceutical company executives to their firm's share price, which in turn relied on keeping profits healthy. Traditionally some companies charged what they thought they could get away with, he said. 'We are told we are being mean all the time, but what nobody mentions is why the drugs are so expensive.'

Kidney cancer drugs could be produced for about a tenth of their current cost, Rawlins said. While developing such medicines from scratch added to these costs, as did some 'unnecessary' bureaucracy around clinical trials which should be scrapped, he said that was not the whole story. 'Part of the problem is that the pharmaceutical industry is looking at a very bad period in the future because a lot of their big earners are going off patent [allowing rivals to make cheaper versions], and many companies are looking at a 30 or 40 per cent reduction in the next five years unless they come up with new drugs,' he said. 'And so part of the cost is cushioning against that. The other thing, of course, is that the share price is very important to a pharmaceutical company.'