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Defining value

Government is starting to recognise that pharmaceutical companies have more to offer the NHS than the expertise to develop new medicines

A dictionary in which the word 'value' is highlightedIt was Oscar Wilde who wrote that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Sometimes, those of us who work in the UK-based pharmaceutical industry know exactly what he meant.

In England, almost 70 per cent of medicines dispensed cost less than the prescription charge; they form only 12 per cent of the total NHS budget and, when the Department of Health looked at leading medicines prices in comparable countries, the UK ranked twelfth out of 13.

But these figures concentrate just on price. The industry and the medicines we develop offer additional value in a variety of ways.

For a start, the UK-based industry is at the leading edge of advances in scientific knowledge. It has produced one in five of the world's top medicines, punching way above its weight in the global setting.

Medicines have made a major contribution to freeing up other NHS resources – for example, ulcer operations have been consigned to history – as well as to the improvement in life expectancy seen over the past half century.

They have helped speed up treatment and reduce hospital stays substantially. As well as saving the NHS money, this improves quality of life and outcomes for patients.

The cost of ill health to other areas of the economy is often hard to define, but is very real. Social services commitments and sickness benefits can be reduced, as well as the days lost to industry through sickness.

Finally, the overall health of the nation is being improved, and modern medicines are at the forefront. For example, deaths of people over 75 from heart disease have been cut by 40 per cent since the mid-1990s and modern regimens of cancer care cure around 40 and 80 per cent respectively of adults and children suffering from acute lymphatic leukaemia.

Of course, it would be futile to deny the importance of money. The population of the UK is ageing, resulting in a greater expenditure on healthcare at the same time as pressures on budgets increase. This highlights how important it is to look beyond the price label. Early, correct use of medicines can keep old people out of hospital – indeed, out of care homes and the like – for longer. The savings in both budgetary and human terms are great.

Slowly, I believe these messages are starting to get across and people are starting to realise the importance of value as opposed to just price. The ABPI is shortly to launch a report that will raise awareness of the clinical, medical and economic value generated by the UK-based industry. It aims to encourage informed debate, and I hope you will help us distribute it and its key messages widely.

Another example of the added value that the industry can provide is seen in joint working projects between companies and the NHS at local and national level to benefit patients. In England, the DH published its Joint Working Guidance in February 2008, confirming its wish to see a closer working relationship with industry.

Pharma companies have much more to offer the NHS than simply the expertise to develop new medicines. We also have the management skills and the resources of people and knowledge to forge a greater bond with our partners at the sharp end of delivering healthcare. This is our objective, and already some ABPI member companies are putting this into practice with certain NHS Trusts.

The issues explicit in the QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) challenge, which is driving efforts to ensure the continuation of high quality patient care, are central to making these relationships successful.

A further ray of light is the Office for Life Sciences and publication of the OLS's report, Life Sciences 2010: Delivering the Blueprint, at the end of January demonstrated the potential of this new model of collaboration.

The work of the OLS indicates that government is starting to recognise the value of medicines and the industry that creates them. It is vital that this truth be understood even though, as Oscar Wilde also said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple.

Alison Clough

 

The Author
Alison Clough is commercial and communications director of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

To comment on this article, email pm@pmlive.com

6th April 2010

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