Investigation Price hikes force patients to buy drugs online
I bought a year’s supply from Turkey. Of course, I didn’t want to but I had no choice. How can drugs firms be allowed to do this?
seriously- ill patients are risking their lives buying drugs online after pharmaceutical companies hiked the price paid by NHS Scotland, we can reveal.
The Sunday Post has spoken to a number of patients going online to buy drugs that are no longer prescribed by their doctor because of the cost.
They say cheaper alternatives now being offered to them on the NHS are not as effective in treating their often debilitating conditions and they have been left with no option.
Leading doctors yesterday voiced concern and warned that patients were putting themselves and their health at risk.
Dr John Ip, a Paisley GP and director of the Glasgow Local Medical Committee, said: “Patients turning to the internet is not a happy situation.
“It’s not the safest way to access prescription drugs because it’s hard to check their safety.
“But it’s happening because of the huge drugs price hikes.
“If patients need certain drugs, they should be prescribed them.
“There have been price hikes in drugs which are hugely unfair to patients. “This is something the government needs to address.”
NHS Scotland’s bill for medicines rose by 22% in the four years to 2016 to £ 1.67 billion while pharmaceutical companies have been accused of taking dr ugs off the market and relaunching them with a new name and a higher price.
Drugs price watchdog, pharmacist Ben Merriman, has been following drug price hikes since 2012.
He said: “Some of the rises have been shocking.
“This is done by drug companies rebranding.
“The practice is still going on and it’s a big issue – costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds a year.” Drugs being most commonly bought from
abroad include those used to treat thyroid problems, those used in the treatment of epilepsy and some drugs used to treat depression.
The disease hypothyroidism is suffered mainly by women and is a disorder which occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack its own tissues and involves the thyroid gland.
The price of T3, also known as Liothyronine, has increased rapidly in the last decade.
Scottish health boards have been trying to reduce the number of T3 prescriptions and are instead replacing it with a cheaper alternative, T4.
But patients have complained it is not as effective.
Dr Anthony Toft, an expert in diseases such as thyroid problems and former president of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: “There is a danger to buying online because it is not easy to check how reputable the source is.
“T3 is the proper drug for some patients with hypothyroidism.
“This is evidence which goes back to the discovery of its use in 1890.
“The price increases by drug companies is callous and the government is going along with it. “The drugs cost pennies to make. “Questions need to be raised about why this
There have been price hikes in drugs which are hugely unfair to patients. This needs to be addressed
- Dr John Ip
is happening and why is being allowed to continue.”
Other leading doctors voiced concern at patients going online.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the British Medical Association Scotland’s GP committee, said: “You have to know who is at the other end of the website.
“There are dangers to buying online and you just don’t know what you are buying.
“The drugs may not be effective or may not contain what they say they do.”
Aberdeen GP Dr Alasdair Forbes, deputy policy chairman at the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, echoed concerns. He said: “It is incredibly concerning to hear reports of patients buying prescription drugs online given that there are minimal security checks in place for these websites.
“We recognise that buying medication online seems like a convenient option for patients, but it is not without risk.
“Buying prescription drugs online, without appropriate health checks in place, and without decisions being made by someone who doesn’t have access to their relevant medical history poses a very real threat to patient safety.
“There is also no way of patients knowing that what they are buying is what they think it is.”
Children’s epilepsy experts are also worried over the soaring price of anticonvulsant drugs.
A commonly used one, Ethosuximide, has soared from 9p per 250mg capsule in 2006 to £1.89 per capsule in 2016/17.
Epilepsy Scotland said: “Neurologists have raised issues.
“They say that they are managing to keep prescribing it to children but fear they may be asked to reconsider in future. “The cost has skyrocketed in price. “It is not easy to change a child’s drugs because new ones may not control their seizures.”
Last November the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had provisionally found that Concordia had “abused its dominant position to overcharge the NHS” by hiking the price of T3 or Liothyronine between 2007 and 2017.
A spokesman for Concordia, makers of T3, responded by saying: “We do not believe that competition law has been infringed.
“The pricing of Liothyronine has been conducted openly and transparently with the Department of Health in the UK over a period of 10 years.
“Over that time, significant investment has been made in this medicine to ensure its continued availability for patients in the UK, to the specifications re q u i re d by t h e Me d i c i n e s and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.”
The British Generic Manufacturers Association said: “The UK benefits from one of the most competitive generic medicines markets in Europe, delivering some of the lowest prices available.
“Generic competition saves the NHS more than £13bn every year, increasing access by allowing more patients to be treated as a result.
“Allowing flexibility of pricing ensures that the market attracts numerous suppliers, which in turn maintains downward pressure on prices as manufacturers compete for market share.
“Prices of generic medicines, many of which are used in high volumes by the NHS and supplied for very low cost, are controlled by competition.”
The cost of the drugs to the NHS is expected to rise by more than 10% over the next three years.
One of the most expensive areas is medicines for very rare conditions but more of those drugs are being approved for use.
Between May 2014 and March 2016, the Scottish Medicine Consortium approved 75% of medicines used to treat very rare illnesses.
This compares to 48% of medicines for rare conditions approved between 2011-13.
Pamela Risk is forced to buy crucial drugs online
Pamela Risk buys drugs online for a thyroid problem