The Observer (17.08.08) ran a front page
headline “Health chief attacks drug giants over huge profits.” Sir Michael Rawlins
hit out after the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was accused
of ‘barbarism’ for refusing to approve expensive kidney drugs. NICE said the
drugs ‘only’ gave the patient an extra few months of life. We wonder if they
would be so insouciant if it were their lives on the line.
“We are told we are being mean all the
time, but what nobody mentions is why the drugs are so expensive,” Rawlins
commented. He argued that kidney cancer drugs could be produced for a tenth of
what the NHS is charged. He explained that, “’Traditionally the pharmaceutical
industry will admit that they actually charged what they think the market will
He went on, “Pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed double-digit growth year
on year and they are out to sustain that, not least because their senior
management’s earnings are related to the share price. It’s not in their
interests to take less profit, personally as well as from the point of view of
the business. All these perverse incentives drive the price up.
“The other thing we have to pay for is the costs of marketing. Marketing
costs generally are about twice the spend on research and development.’ Advertising
to patients was forbidden in Britain, but widespread in the US, and some of
that marketing cost was built into European drug prices,” Rawlins said.
So let’s get this straight. The NHS pays for the cost of marketing drugs in
the USA! The drug companies say their profits are ploughed back into research
into new life-saving drugs. In fact they spend twice as much on marketing as on
R & D. Marketing complex drugs direct to patients sounds like an
unscrupulous activity – we’re not talking about informed consent here. These
are sick, worried people. They will pay whatever it takes and clutch at straws.
So let’s save the NHS some money and give sick people the drugs they need.
Nationalise the drug companies. Problem sorted.