NHS must be 'bullish' on the valuation of branded drugs

The NHS must stand its ground over what it is willing to pay for new medicines and ensure 'rigorous' assessment of value, a health economist has warned.

NICE: must check the value of drugs to the NHS (Photograph: JH Lancy)
NICE: must check the value of drugs to the NHS (Photograph: JH Lancy)

The NHS must ‘explicitly’ define the value of new drugs to ensure the best deal for patients, according to Professor Mark Sculpher of the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York. Deals with manufacturers should ‘guarantee uptake’ when this value is assured, he argued.

From 2013, the DH plans to link the amount the NHS pays for branded drugs to their perceived value under ‘value-based pricing’, in a bid to stem rising costs. A consultation ended in March last year, but final details of the plans are yet to be released.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event on the future role of NICE in London last month, Professor Sculpher called for thorough evidence and analysis to demonstrate value amid a climate of tightening finances.

‘The NHS, through NICE, must ensure all claims are subjected to detailed scrutiny,’ he said. He argued that, for example, a new cancer drug costing £10m must benefit overall NHS care more than the services that would need to be cut to fund it.

Ministers say value-based pricing will improve patient access to new treatments. Professor Sculpher warned that the NHS must be bullish and ‘specify the maximum it is willing to pay for innovation’.

In return, the NHS must pursue take-up of proven products to ensure companies continue to develop innovative drugs. This may involve a centrally determined ‘target volume’ of drug to purchase, and could involve incentivising commissioners to fund particular drugs, he argued.

Labour peer Lord Turnberg, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on medical research, said achieving the £20bn Nicholson challenge savings while implementing NICE guidelines would be ‘extremely challenging’ for clinical commissioning groups.

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