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Government scraps plans to replace brand drugs with generics in primary care

Government said it was not clear whether the cost of implementation would have outweighed savings benefits

Caroline White

Friday, 15 October 2010

The government has decided not to press ahead with plans for the generic substitution of medicines in primary care, health minister Lord Howe has announced.

The government had wanted dispensers to replace branded drugs for generic versions when dispensing a prescription in a bid to contain the mounting costs of the NHS drugs bill, but the plans were met with widespread opposition from patients and clinicians as well as industry.

Most (85%) of prescriptions written for patients are already for generic medicines, says a statement from the Department of Health. It adds: “The further use of generic medicines may still provide valuable savings and the Department of Health is instead building on existing initiatives as well as looking at other ways of supporting the use of generic medicines where it is appropriate and safe and does not add extra burdens for healthcare professionals.”

In making the announcement Lord Howe said that the government felt that its plans were “too prescriptive,” and that it had taken on board the concerns raised by the public, patients and other interested parties. 

“It is also not clear whether the proposals would have provided substantial benefit to the NHS, compared to the efforts of frontline staff to implement them. This is why we have decided not to progress with national implementation.”

“We want patients to get the drugs their doctors recommend at the best price for the taxpayer. Patients should be reassured that we are looking at more appropriate ways of supporting the use of generic medicines and, in the long term, value-based pricing will help to ensure we pay a price for drugs which better reflects their value.”

The UK industry trade body, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), has welcomed the move.

Dr Richard Barker, Director-General of the ABPI said: “Many patients need modern branded medicines to be adequately treated. However, we see parts of the NHS inappropriately switching such patients to low cost generics and so putting their welfare at risk.

It's vital that patients, not short-term financial targets, come first in the choice of prescription medicines. This is the right solution for patients, the NHS and for Britain's world-leading life sciences sector.”

He added: “The stability offered by the Government’s commitment to continuing the PPRS to 2014 is vital. It will help maintain investment and allow time for a careful co-creation of a new value-based agreement between Government and industry—keeping patient access to medicines as our prime focus.”

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