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NHS saves £324m by switching to cheaper medicines

Greater use of biosimilars and generics planned

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 01 August 2018

The NHS saved £324 million last financial year by switching from using 10 expensive medicines to biosimilar and generic drugs.

NHS Improvement, which reported the saving this week, says more savings will be achieved this year.

Biosimilar and generic medicines were used to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, some forms of cancer and inflammatory bowel conditions, NHS Improvement stated, and were “just as safe and effective as the more expensive original biological versions”.

More switches are planned. Biosimilars of adalimumab, which treats rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis, and is the medicine on which the NHS currently spends most money, are likely to be available alongside the original biological medicine (Humira®) after October 2018.

In 2017/2018, NHS Improvement set a savings target of £250 million for NHS trusts that use the 10 expensive medicines. The trusts have exceeded the target by £74 million. NHS Improvement is working with NHS trusts to make further savings of around £200 million this financial year.

Around £100 million of this will come from savings generated through using new biosimilar medicines as two further original biological medicines come off patent. Biosimilars of trastuzumab, which treats breast cancer, have been commissioned by NHS England as an alternative to the branded medicine Herceptin® since Monday 16 July 2018.

Dr Jeremy Marlow, executive director of operational productivity, NHS Improvement, said: “As more people are diagnosed with long-term conditions, such as arthritis and cancer, we must ensure the NHS uses its resources as efficiently as possible to treat and care for them.

“By delivering £324 million in savings in a single year from switching to better value but equally effective and safe medicines, the NHS has been able to help more patients manage their conditions.

“There is more still to do, with £200 million of additional savings to be achieved this year. We will also continue to find further opportunities to use medicines more effectively and make every penny of the NHS’s budget count.”

Commenting, Dr Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer, NHS England, said: “Biosimilar medicines are safe and effective. As we develop a 10-year plan for the NHS we will be working to promote their use more widely, enabling the NHS to reinvest hundreds of millions of pounds into innovative new treatments and patient care.”

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