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NHS needs much faster access to new medicines

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/04/11/nhs-needs-much-faster-access-new-medicines/

By ERIK NORDKAMP

This week marks 70 years since the World Health Organisation began its crusade to deliver better health for all.

It could not be more timely that this year’s anniversary will focus on “universal health coverage”, just as Britain also celebrates 70 years in which UK health has been transformed through a free, world-class National Health Service.

Despite the well-documented challenges that the NHS is facing, we remain in a fortunate position with access to the essential health services we need – something that, even today, only half of the world’s population can boast.

But universal health coverage is about more than just access to hospitals, doctors and nurses.

Across the decades, medicines have been saving and transforming lives. In the past 10 years, the pharmaceutical industry has found a cure for hepatitis C, HIV is now a long-term condition, half of people with cancer survive at least 10 years, and huge improvements have been made in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, with a 40pc reduction overall in under 75 deaths.

The availability of modern vaccines can even stop many diseases in their tracks, preventing us from getting ill in the first place and saving an estimated 2.5m lives worldwide every year.

The benefits of such treatments for us as individuals are clear, but the economic impact for society can also be significant.

Patients in France and Germany are five times more likely to get a new medicine than those in Britain

A report by Oxford Economics from 2010showed that in 2008 arthritis cost the UK economy nearly £15bn a year in sick leave, carer support, reduced productivity and loss of work. Effective treatments and early diagnosis could help people get well enough to remain in work.

Many other medicines are similarly important in helping to keep people out of wards and into work.

That’s why, for almost 60 of the NHS’s 70 years, the pharmaceutical industry has been working to ensure the availability of the critical treatments we depend upon. Every five years, industry and the Government agree a voluntary branded medicines scheme.

The 2014 scheme keeps growth in the medicines bill to agreed limits and is therefore more sustainable.

The scheme is intended to encourage faster uptake of exciting new medicines for patients, deliver value to the NHS and support the future of the pharmaceutical industry.

The current scheme, which is in its final year, has seen industry pay back over £2bn to help the NHS make available the newest and most innovative medicines. Such support is unprecedented in any other part of the NHS.

But medicines are changing, the population is ageing and treating disease is growing ever more complex.

According to data from the ABPI, patients in France and Germany are now five times more likely to get a new medicine than those living in Britain.

Five-year survival rates after diagnosis in the UK lag behind the EU average for nine in 10 cancers, and we are the lowest in Europe for ovarian cancer, with five-year survival being 34pc, which is 6pc lower than the EU average, and second worst for lung cancer, being 4pc lower than the EU average. The answer may lie in adopting a more joined up approach between a medicine’s invention and its use.

An industrial strategy and sector deal has been developed for the life sciences industry to cement the UK’s position as a global leader in R&D.

But faster access to innovation is critical when it comes to delivering the very best care, so we must also ensure UK patients are at the front of the queue for the new medicines and clinical trials delivered as a result.

Globally, across the pharmaceutical industry, with 7,000 new medicines in the pipeline, this should be a growing and urgent priority for all of those involved in safeguarding the nation’s health.

The NHS has an extraordinary legacy. There can be few institutions that have achieved so much, for so many.

I can think of few better ways to celebrate its 70th anniversary this year than by working together to find the solutions that will enable the NHS to embrace innovation further and faster.