Thursday, 2 October 2008

Drug firms bankroll attacks on NHS

This story in yesterday's "Independent" confirms many people's suspicions: that the well-presented claims for expensive drug treatment for much-loved family members have been funded directly or indirectly by the companies producing the drugs.

It is hard to resist the heartfelt yearning of children and grandchildren for an extra year or so of life for their dear grandparent. One cannot blame them. Indeed, one beneficiary of a campaign for Sudent treatment, not then available in this region, lives round the corner from me and I wouldn't want to deny her precious extra time with her family.

However, the cynical manipulation of the nation's heartstrings by multi-billion dollar (or Swiss franc) corporations is deplorable. Each time NICE (the body responsible for ensuring fair use of a limited budget in England) makes an unpopular decision, one of the smaller charities will make a well-publicised, often vitriolic, attack against it. Drug companies typically make six-figure contributions to these charities, which are therefore heavily dependent on corporate money.

Too few questions are asked about the high prices of drugs against cancer and against physical and mental deterioration. Spokesmen for the industry will state that these merely reflect the high cost of research and development, but this is the same argument which is deployed against critics of the prolongation of patents on more basic drugs. The heavy mark-up is supposed to go towards R&D.

I reckon that the annual cost of one of these treatments would, over the same period, pay for a technician examining smears (thus leading to early diagnosis, saving life and/or more invasive treatment later) or for a physiotherapist or speech therapist (helping to restore many people to fuller lives), all professionals who are in short supply in the health service generally.

There may be a case for the Welsh NHS taking the advice of Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), the Scottish equivalent of NICE, instead of the recommendations of the English body. SIGN tends to come to swifter, less contested, decisions for a nation whose conditions are closer to our own. But a mechanism for sharing a limited budget there must be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the way you put "Independent" in quotation marks.

Drugs firms are obviously there to make a profit, this sponsorship you describe could be regarded as gaining a competitive advantage over rivals. You can't really blame them for engaging in this activity, if they don't another drugs firm will.

Although this won't necessarily lead to the best treatments being developed for the UK and European markets.

Various members of the Roman Catholic church have proposed that African's should be prescribed anti viral medications, there is an estimated 25 million people in Africa with AIDS/HIV with two million new cases per year. The cost of treatment would be huge! It would cost around £100 pcm to keep someone on the vary basic treatments for HIV/AIDS let alone treating someone with complications.

Condoms are the answer.