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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Drug firm execs face court over NHS fraud

Six UK-based drug companies and their senior executives are expected to face trial on charges of conspiracy to defraud the NHS by fixing the prices of popular prescription drugs. The charges have come to light following a three-year Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation (Operation Holbein). A trial is expected in 2007.

Evidence has been gleaned from 16 company insiders and includes material from board meetings that allegedly shows a clear agreement between the six companies to fix prices and divide the profits.

Top executives could face 10 years' imprisonment, while the companies will accrue multi-million pound fines. The companies have been named as: Kent Pharmaceuticals, Norton Healthcare, the Goldshield Group, Generics UK, Ranbaxy Laboratories UK Unit, and Regent-GM Laboratories. All involved deny wrongdoing. Two firms have already settled without accepting liability ­- Generics UK, part of the Merck group, and Ranbaxy.

NHS to blame for postcode prescriptions

The Audit Commission claimed yesterday that the recommendations of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to end `postcode prescribing' would never be met unless financial management improved.

Ending 'postcode prescribing' whereby prescriptions are only sporadically available is just one of many controversial NICE recommendations. The NHS Confederation, which represents health trusts and authorities, preferred to blame NICE for unduly increasing financial burdens, rather than accept poor financial management as the root cause of their problems. Dr Gill Morgan, its chief executive, called for an urgent review of NICE recommendations claiming they have added £800m a year to NHS spending.

WHO wants a boost in seasonal flu vaccinations

If the world is to tackle the potential bird flu pandemic, countries must boost their use of seasonal flu vaccines, according to the World Health Organisation's top flu official, Klaus Stˆhr.

Stˆhr said increased flu vaccinations are needed immediately to encourage demand. Increased demand would lead to higher manufacturing capability, which could ultimately enable sufficient vaccine production during a pandemic.

His comments are timely for pharmaceutical companies that have become increasingly interested in the commercial prospects of vaccines, including Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

Global manufacturers currently produce a mere 300 million doses a year, nearly all of which is distributed in just 9 Western countries.

30th September 2008

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