In­ves­ti­ga­tion Price hikes force pa­tients to buy drugs on­line

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - FRONT PAGE - By Janet Boyle JBOYLE@SUNDAYPOST.COM

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

Elaine Smith

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