The UK Government’s plans to change medicines pricing “could make it harder for sick people to get treatment” according to a health think-tank.

The 2020health right-leaning think-tank has published a review from a patient’s perspective of the plans to change the way medicines are priced from the PPRS scheme to a Value-Based Pricing system.

VBP looks to change the way drugs are priced in the UK by giving new definitions of value to new drugs from 2014, with discussion for the plans – details of which remain vague – are on-going between the government and the ABPI. 

The report urges the government to consider solutions including allowing drug companies to fix their own prices for individual drugs with new controls operating at the higher level of the entire cost of each company’s drugs to the NHS – something that will be removed under VBP as the price will essentially be set by the government. 

The current PPRS achieves this aim mainly by enforcing a 30% profit cap, but the same objective could be achieved in other ways: e.g. a revenue cap, a trading margin cap, and so on, according to the think-tank.

It said that companies could also commit to enabling access to their products under the NHS except in extreme cases by adjusting their prices appropriately, for example by lowering the price of older drugs by enough to accommodate high enough prices for new products.

2020health is also concerned about the ending of patient access schemes – a deal with the Department of Health, pharma and NICE that allows a secret discount on new medicines to make them cost effective. It fears these may be lost under VBP and urges the government to keep these in place for the benefit of patients. 

Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020health, who has never been a supporter of the proposed new system, said: “Patients are usually blissfully unaware of pricing negotiations but the Government’s new plans for pricing will politicise a formerly non-contentious issue.”

“This report entitled “Value-based pricing: the wrong medicine for the nation?” takes the approach of asking what concerns would the public have if a new system of ‘value-based pricing’ were introduced. Despite the intensive negotiations and new promises to include patients further in deliberations this is an idea it seems was flawed from the start.

“Our primary concern is to ensure that sick people have as rapid access as possible to new medicines in the UK, and to give the UK the best possible environment to continue to attract research and development across all life sciences.”

Barbara Arzymanow, main author of the report said: “The public have been told that politicians are staying out of the NHS, so this change could seem like hypocritical interference. Patients could mistake value-based pricing for a commitment to make more medicines available, which is not the case. One product can have many uses and dosage regimes which are of different ‘value’ to different people.

“Pricing of medicines can be improved, but not through this entirely new scheme. The confidence of patients and the future of medicine are more important than words.”

The ABPI’s president Deepak Khanna recently told PharmaTimes UK news in an interview that he was looking to make sure that the PPRS would remain as the dominant force in drug pricing for the UK, with elements of VBP wedded to the old system. The ‘big-bang’ date for the new scheme is set for 1 January 2014, although this could be held back if negotiations break down before then.