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rices of branded medicines in the UK have moved from being among the highest in Europe in 2004 to the lowest last year, the Department of Health has reported.

The fall in value of the pound between 2004 and 2008 accounts for much of the change in the position of the UK relative to other countries in Europe – plus the USA and Australia - over this period, the Department points out, in its new report to Parliament on the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS).

However a leading industry spokesman said the figures show that the UK is “the poor man of Europe.”

The study, which compares the prices of the leading 150 branded medicines in 2008 in 13 markets, ranks the UK in 12th place, with only Australian prices being lower. Ahead of Britain are the USA, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) points out that prices of medicines in Britain have dropped even further since last year, because of the 3.9% cut in the list price of branded medicines supplied to the National Health Service (NHS) from February 1 this year and the decline of the pound against the euro. In the second quarter of this year, UK prices fell below those of Australia to last place in the table, it says.

“What we are talking about here is the breakthrough medicines which make huge differences to people’s lives. Prices in the UK are less than in any other comparative European country, yet the UK government, via the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), continues to tell patients we can’t afford new medicines,” said the ABPI’s commercial director, David Fisher.

“I think patients, many of whom have paid into the healthcare pot for many years, should be asking hard questions about why they are not being allowed to get their investment back,” he added.

Moreover, the ABPI has conducted additional research which shows that the UK spends 1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on medicines, which less than half that of Greece - at 2.32% - and Portugal (2.17%). It is half of the 2% spent by France, and two-thirds of the average of 15 European nations, the Association reports.

“Spending by GDP provides an indication of what is affordable. No matter what measure you use, the UK is the poor man of Europe. Patients in the UK deserve better,” said Mr Fisher.

However, the ABPI welcomed the fact that the Department report highlights the_contribution made by the pharmaceutical industry to the UK economy, with a positive trade balance of £6.2 billion in 2008. “The UK is home to a world-class pharmaceutical industry, which makes significant contributions not only to developing new medicines and to the economy, but also to the UK research capacity within and beyond the NHS,” the Department tells Parliament, adding “the UK-based pharmaceutical industry remains among the most innovative, with 16 of the world’s top-selling 75 medicines discovered and developed in the UK, more than in any other country except for the USA.”