The concerns expressed in the Office of Fair Trading’s market report on medicines distribution in the UK this week, including its warnings that direct-to-pharmacy distribution models could raise costs to the National Health Service by “hundreds of millions of pounds,” are unlikely to stop more manufacturers adopting DTP schemes over the next year, observers believe.

“The OFT appears to be leaving it to the market to ensure pharmacies are not harmed by the introduction of direct-to-pharmacy distribution models,” commented Dr Allen Tennant of the Dispensing Doctors’ Association, who forecast the introduction of more such schemes, while Stephen Rose, partner at international law firm Eversheds, said the report showed that, despite its concerns, the OFT would not be stepping in.

The fact of the market watchdog’s review had had a chilling effect on pharmaceutical companies following the route taken by Pfizer (the first manufacturer to introduce a sole supplier DTP distribution scheme, with Unichem) but, with the publication of the report, several companies are likely to introduce such schemes in 2008, forecast Mr Rose.

“The case demonstrates the new flexibility of the OFT in focusing its actions on the public interest; a case that started life as a Competition Act complaint that smaller wholesalers might be forced out of the market ended with recommendations to government on changes to the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS),” he added.

Mr Rose also applauded the OFT for, “sensibly", choosing not to extend the competition inquiry - as it could have done by referring the market for two years' investigation by the Competition Commission - but, instead, allowing new distribution routes to develop and continuing to monitor the sector with the prospect of future investigation, if appropriate.

BAPW ooposition
The British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, which strongly opposes DTP supply arrangements, welcomed the OFT study’s recognition of the sector’s concerns, while the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry commented: “The choice of distribution arrangements by companies is a matter for their commercial judgement, providing that patient safety, supply chain security, speed of service to pharmacists and general efficiency are maintained.”

The pharmaceutical industry is already working with the government on how medicines can be delivered to the NHS with the maximum efficiency, and the OFT recommendations will be considered in parallel with these discussions, the ABPI added.