NHS funds mostly spent on chronic conditions, not specialty meds

Pills and vitamins

Pharma players large and small have raged at the U.K. price watchdog NICE over its stinginess in approving costly new specialty meds, particularly cancer treatments, because of concerns over what they will cost England’s National Health Service. But a new reports shows that it's spending on drugs for chronic illnesses like diabetes and depression that are the real budget busters.

The report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) says that for 9 years running, drugs to treat diabetes were the largest single category of spending, hitting £2.6 million ($3.5 million) a day in 2014. The total amount spent for diabetes drugs was £936.7 million ($1.2 billion) in 2015, up £87.6 million.

The category of drugs that accounted for the largest jump in prescriptions was antidepressants, the report said. The NHS wrote 61 million prescriptions for antidepressants, a jump of 6.8% from the previous year and up 107.6% from a decade ago. In total the NHS wrote 1.08 billion prescriptions, up 1.8% from the previous year. Of those, almost 90% were given free, mostly to patients over the age of 60.  

Of course, many of the prescriptions in the largest categories would be for generic drugs and this is not where Big Pharma makes its money. And so the battles have been fought over the reluctance of price watchdog NICE to approve drugs like Johnson & Johnson’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia med Imbruvica. Its rejection this year led Mark Hicken, managing director of J&J’s Janssen unit in the U.K., to say that the country was again lagging behind other EU countries that had already approved the treatment.

Just last week, Japan’s Eisai lashed out at the NHS for excluding its thyroid cancer drug Lenvima for coverage by the revamped Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) and delaying a reconsideration until next year.

Gary Hendler, Eisai EMEA head, told Reuters that the drugmaker was evaluating all its options, including legal action and rethinking its commitment to the U.K. because of the delay for a drug which Eisai actually manufactures there.

- read the announcement

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