The UK’s continued use of older medicines means the country is still behind most of its peers when it comes to access to innovative new medicines.

That is one of the key conclusions of a report compiled by the Office of Health Economics for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry  which updates the 2010 Richards Report. The latter examined the extent and causes of variations in international medicines use.

Despite showing an increase in usage per person for 11 of the 16 therapy classes surveyed from 2008/09, the report shows that the UK remains ninth out of 13 countries with France maintaining top slot. Spain and the USA are second and third, Germany is 10th and New Zealand is still 13th.

In seven of these 11 classes, the UK usage per person was below the international average for 2012/13 – this included the latest cancer medicines less than five years old and those for dementia, multiple sclerosis and stroke prevention.

In the other four of these 11 classes – cancer medicines more than 10 years old and treatments for osteoporosis, respiratory distress syndrome and wet age-related macular degeneration – UK use was higher than the international average for 2012/13. The ABPI said this highlights “a reliance on older medicines and relatively slow uptake since 2009 of newer, more innovative medicines particularly to treat cancer”.

In five of the 16 classes, the UK has fallen below the international average including cancer medicines for six-10 years old, hormonal cancer drugs, thrombolytics for myocardial infarction, TNF medicines for rheumatoid arthritis and statins.
David Watson, the ABPI’s director of pricing and reimbursement, said that whilst the report shows an improvement in ranking for the use of some medicines and a decline in just a few areas, “overall the UK has remained static in the bottom half of the table”. This is  disappointing, he added, “given the number of initiatives in place since 2009 to improve patient access to newer medicines.”

Mr Watson went on to claim the UK’s continued use of older medicines, especially to treat cancer and diabetes, “highlights a failing in the system to ensure that patients benefit” from new treatments. “We are seeing NICE recommended medicines facing further review, restrictions and modifications compared to NICE guidance,” he stated.
He noted that the industry, through the 2014 Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, agreed to keep NHS expenditure on branded medicines flat for two years “and within agreed controlled growth levels for a further three years. This should enable the NHS to prescribe the newest, most effective medicines for patients and we would expect to see a rise in the per person use of some of these newer medicines in future years”.