Pharmaceutical giants threaten government with industry exodus

The public’s perception of the pharmaceutical industry is incredibly diverse and contentious. Yet although, granted, many of their practises are a bit murky (note Aspen Industries’ shameful recent price-hike of the leukaemia drug, busulfun), many of the drugs these companies manufacture are a necessity to our healthcare system.

That’s why it’s worrying to hear that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), representing global pharmaceutical giants including GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Roche and Novartis, have issued a warning that they may abandon Britain if the NHS doesn’t receive an extra £20 billion a year in funding.

The president of the association, Lisa Anson, has said the current squeeze on the NHS poses a great threat to the £30 billion life sciences industry in the UK, noting that without more spending, the industry wouldn’t have the incentive to trial new drugs as they wouldn’t be approved and subsequently launched by the health service.

And to give them their due, they have a point.

Across the major world powers, collectively known as the G7, the average health spending is 11.3 per cent of GDP, 1.4 per cent more than British health spending at 9.9 per cent. The UK only spends 0.9 per cent of GDP on medicines, compared to France and the USA which spend 1.5 and 2.2 per cent, respectively.

 The APBI represents companies who supply 90 per cent of all the drugs used by the NHS. So you can see why this is a worrying state of affairs. Abandoning the UK, will most certainly affect incredibly ill patients who rely on the NHS for cancer, diabetes and HIV immunotherapy treatments, to name just three of the kind of essential drugs these large pharmaceutical companies provide to the NHS.

It is difficult to tell whether this “withdrawal” is just vain posturing by the pharmaceutical industry to try and boost profits or whether it is the new president taking a firm stance (Lisa Anson only became president the day of the announcement).

Personally, I highly doubt that these pharmaceutical giants would sever or complicate their lucrative trade by moving away from the UK, since they  supply 90 per cent of NHS drugs.

One thing we can all hope for is that this will put sufficient pressure on the government to ease the ongoing crisis within the NHS – something we would all be grateful for.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher