NHS funding could hinder patient’s access to drugs warns King’s Fund

NHS funding could hinder patient’s access to drugs warns King’s Fund

A new report from The King’s Fund has revealed that NHS funding levels are not keeping pace with growth in NHS spending on medicines, which potentially comprises patients’ access to drugs.

According to the report, total NHS spending on medicines in England increased from £13bn (~€15bn) in 2010/11 to £17.4bn in 2016/17, an average growth of around 5% per year. By contrast, the NHS budget grew on average just 1% a year over the same period – a fact which is putting patients’ access to drugs at potential risk.

The majority of the growth in spending has been in hospitals, which now account for nearly half of the total amount the NHS spends on medicines. Costs have grown by around 12% a year since 2010/11.

Although reasons for growth are not clear, The King’s Fund thinks it is likely to have been enhanced by an increase in the number of patients treated and the introduction of expensive new treatments, such as cancer and autoimmune drugs.

A rapid increase in prescriptions issued

Within primary care, analysis shows that the increased use of drugs such as statins and anti-depressants has resulted in an extreme growth in prescriptions issued, with over one billion items prescribed in 2016.

However, spending growth has been at a much lower rate than in hospitals, due to the success of policy initiatives like the encouragement in using cheaper generic drugs, which has resulted in a near 25% reduction in the average costs per prescription item.

New drugs, new cost pressures

In order to gain control over medicines spending, policymakers have introduced a budget impact test for new products that will cost more than £20m a year, reforming the Cancer Drugs Fund and restricting access to medicines that can be bought over the counter or are deemed low value.

Alongside this, new cost pressures have been created due to an increased use of biological treatments and the development of effective but expensive products, like new drugs used to treat hepatitis C and prevent HIV.

NHS struggling to strike a balance

Helen McKenna, senior policy advisor at The King’s Fund, said: “Over the years the NHS has successfully used a number of policies to contain spending on medicines while ensuring access to medicines, such as encouraging the widespread use of cheaper generic drugs.

“But rising demand for healthcare coupled with newer, more expensive treatments and an unprecedented funding squeeze means the NHS is now struggling to strike a balance between the competing priorities of access, innovation and affordability.”

She added: “It is important to tackle inappropriate prescribing and the overuse of medicines, especially antibiotics. However, we are now seeing policymakers implementing increasingly controversial measures to control the medicines bill.”

Source: King’s Fund

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