The new health secretary Jeremy Hunt will have a baptism of fire this month as he heads straight into negotiations over VBP.
Andrew Lansley was removed from his post as health secretary on Tuesday (4 September) in a Cabinet reshuffle – the man who was both the architect and lead for the discussions over value-based pricing that begin this month.
But this will now be handed over to Hunt, who has no parliamentary experience with pharma or the NHS, and must now deal with the tricky negotiations over what the UK’s new drug pricing scheme will look like.
Hunt, a Conservative MP for south west Surrey, was previously the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport.
He told the BBC that he was ‘incredibly honoured’ to take over the role of health secretary, adding: “It is a huge task and the biggest privilege of my life.” The Liberal Democrats MP Norman Lamb has also been appointed minister for care services in the shuffle, taking over from Paul Burstow.
Limited health CV
Looking through his voting record and speeches, the new health secretary is anti-abortion and does not support the use of stem cells in research, whilst also favouring homeopathy.
He has no previous professional experience in dealing with health or pharma, being shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport before the government was elected in 2010. He also runs and own an educational publishing business.
But he lists as his proudest political achievement as being when he was working with local campaigners in Guildford to save the Royal Surrey County Hospital’s A&E department from closure in 2006/07.
He endorsed a rally and a candle-lit vigil at Parliament, which led to the local Primary Care Trust in the area to keep the department open.
But current thinking from the NHS Confederation and the King’s Fund is that these departments - and indeed a number of hospitals - should in fact be closed in order to help make large savings, and create more bespoke community care.
This could be one area that Mr Hunt and NHS managers will clash on in the coming months, and years.
VBP discussions to be delayed?
The first clash could be VBP - as he will now walk straight into negotiations with the ABPI over the future of drug pricing in the UK. But Julia Manning, chief executive of the industry think-tank 2020Health, says it would be sensible for Hunt to postpone the discussions.
She told PharmaTimes that as the government has to renegotiate the PPRS regardless of what happens: “It would seem sensible for [Hunt] to focus on this and postpone negotiations on changing the pricing system for new drugs”.
She added: “This gives everyone more time to think about what data and structures would be required for a new system to be truly effective with no detriment to the pharmaceutical industry’s investment in research, clinical trials and above all patients in the UK.” Whatever happens, a new system will have to be in place by 2014 as this is when the current five-year PPRS scheme ends.
A controversial choice
Hunt is a controversial figure as he had a close relationship with the owners of News Corporation – the Murdoch media mogul family - whilst overseeing an acquisition bid from the company for BskyB, the British broadcasting arm of Sky.
Earlier this year, Labour forced a Commons’ vote on his position after they deemed he had broken the ministerial code because of his bias, but he survived the vote and kept his position.
But the Opposition was still dismayed by his appointment; shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher said after his appointment: “Jeremy Hunt, the man who broke the ministerial code and failed to stand up to News Corporation, is now in charge of the NHS, our most cherished national institution.”
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