HEALTh servIce Buyers Also have questions To Answer
Pharma company owners Vijay and Bhikhu Patel have been accused by a national newspaper of exploiting the NHS to the tune of millions of pounds by overcharging for common drugs.
According to the paper, drugs that had their prices hiked included 10mg tablets of steroid Hydrocortisone, up by 12,500 per cent from 70p in 2008 to £85 in 2016; 50mg of anti anxiety
drug doxepin up from £5.72 to £154 a packet since 2011; and Cyclizine 30mg tablets, used to treat nausea, up from £9.57 to £353.06 a packet.
The Patel brothers, who feel “violated” by the adverse publicity, were said to have used a loophole in the NHS pricing structure to push up the cost of drugs. Many pharma companies apparently do the same through their generics divisions – it seems strange that only the activities of entrepreneurs, who happen to be Asian, have been slammed.
After 20 years when brands come out of patents, the big pharma companies sell them on. The buyers develop and market the brands – and increase prices through an existing loophole.
The report found that, “since 2011, 32 medicines have risen in price by at least 1,000 per cent – a bill of £262 million and enough to pay for an extra 7,000 junior doctors a year”.
The tactics of the companies involved are entirely legal, the paper acknowledged, but are “increasing financial pressure on the already stretched NHS”.
The Patel brothers would do well to answer these allegations. Their friends say “the Patels are true entrepreneurs and have built their wealth over 40 years, starting with a single pharmacy and growing to a diversified investment portfolio encompassing the real estate, energy, transport and digital health- care sectors as well as the pharmaceutical sector. They only created Atnahs in late 2013, investing £50m to acquire a set of pharmaceutical assets in both the UK and internationally.”
They add that “since the 1990s, the Patels have donated significant sums to charitable causes. This led them to set up the philanthropic Shanta Foun- dation, which funds UK and international projects with a focus on emergency shelter, education and healthcare.”
What is harder to understand is the behaviour of the NHS buyers.
Imagine you are shopping at a supermarket and pick up a chicken costing £4.50, but at the till you are told: “By the way, this chicken has gone up in price by 12,500 per cent. It now costs £562,250.”
Do you say, “No problem,” and pay up, as the NHS buyers appear to have done?
If the Patel brothers have not done anything wrong, perhaps the more important story is about the negligence of the NHS buyers.