brexit ‘may mean loss of nhs savings and rise in cost of drugs’
by Neil Trainis
sigma Pharmaceuticals has intensified its campaign for the uK to remain in the european union after meeting with mps to discuss the implications of Brexit.
Officials from the pharmaceutical company Richard Howitt, the Labour member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the east of England and his Conservative counterpart Vicky Ford, to talk about the advantages of remaining in the EU recently.
The move comes after 81 Asian business leaders signed an open letter supporting the UK’s membership of the EU.
“Various things were discussed about the advantages of being in Europe, especially with regards to the pharmaceuticals industry and the NHS,” Bharat Shah, the man- aging director of Sigma, said.
Among the issues on the agenda were the rise in the cost of medi- cines and tougher access to poten- tially life-saving drugs. They also talked about the potential damage Brexit would do to the UK parallel import market which allows medi- cines patented in another EU state to be marketed in the UK so long as the imported product does not differ therapeutically.
“Parallel trade in pharmaceuticals happened because of one single European market. Parallel imports save the NHS in excess of £100 million per year today, but in its heyday, the savings were more than £400 million annually. If parallel imports did not happen, the NHS will stand to lose,” Shah said.
He added that the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds in savings to the NHS would be compounded by significant job losses if businesses relying on parallel importing were to close.
“If there is no competition in medicines from Europe, it is likely that the multinational companies may have a monopoly of their medicines in the UK and could hold NHS to ransom for prices and supply,” he explained
Another knock-on effect of Brexit impressed upon MPs by Sigma directors was the rise in the price of generic medicines which, according to the British Generic Manu- facturers Association, saves the NHS more than £11 billion a year
Over 750 million items are prescribed generically in England and Wales annually, and the huge savings generated boosts the development of new drugs. There are concerns that a vote to leave will have an impact on all of that.
“I can certainly see an increase in the prices of generic medicines in the UK if we do not have help from Europe,” Shah said.
There also remains uncertainty over how the Falsified Medicines Directive, which is designed to improve security against counterfeit medicines and will require pharmacists to scan the barcodes of all medicines at the point of dispensing from 2019, will apply to the UK in the event of a vote to leave.
Sigma’s meeting at its Watford headquarters comes in the wake of a report released last month by Sigma director Bhavin Shah and former Labour MP Claire Ward, now the chair of Pharmacy Voice, warning of the dangers posed to community pharmacy and patient health if the UK votes for Brexit.