Poor adoption of new medicines in the UK means the country's healthcare system is being destroyed, wreaking terrible damage on drugmakers and patients alike.

That is the message from Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, who has warned that the social contract between the NHS and the sector was breaking down, with patients bearing the brunt. Speaking at the ABPI’s annual conference in London, he said "the UK is amongst the slowest adopter of new medicines in Europe, despite low prices, and our spending on new medicines is actually set to decline further".

Mr Whitehead noted that NICE-approved medicines are not reaching patients "despite proof of value and guarantees under the NHS constitution" and "this is a widespread and disturbing trend". As a result, the UK life sciences sector is suffering, he added, R&D has declined from 6% of trials to 1.2%, "and it no longer supports as many jobs it did just a few years ago". Indeed, he claimed job losses in the past four years have amounted to 16,000.

The ABPI chief went on to say the pharmaceutical industry "has long recognised its social contract with the NHS. We discover and develop medicines, at great cost whilst enduring the very real risk of failures, to address unmet medical need and we get reward for that risk through sales to the NHS so we can reinvest in new treatments".

However, Mr Whitehead believes "this contract has broken down, new medicines are not being adopted despite stringent assessments of value and patients are not getting the best treatments". He went on to say that without medical advances delivered by the pharmaceutical industry, "the NHS could not deliver an effective service to patients. Without our investment in dementia and other challenging disease areas the system cannot cope".

He said that "we need to find a model that stimulates R&D, motivates the NHS to adopt innovative medicines and encourage further discoveries…there needs to be a realignment of investment with the patient at the centre". Mr Whitehead concluded by claiming that "the NHS is tied to maintaining unneeded hospitals when care is best provided using modern medicines and community services at home. A modern healthcare system should be based on patient need and utilising modern medicines, not on maintaining expensive and unproductive infrastructure".