During 2017, the prices of certain generic medicines purchased by community pharmacies for the NHS increased unexpectedly, affecting an unusually high number of medicines.
Although the Department of Health & Social Care (the Department) and its arms-length bodies took action to ensure patients continued to receive the medicines they needed, it was slow to take action to manage the financial impact.
Clinical commissioning groups bore the brunt of this unexpected increase in costs, which contributed substantially to their end-of-year overspend of around £250 million in 2017-18.
While we received no evidence that any patients were harmed, some patients did have difficulties obtaining medicines and pharmacists had to go to greater lengths to secure medicines in short supply.
The Department’s ability to deal with any future reoccurrence of these issues, in a more timely and effective manner, hinges on its 2017 powers and accompanying regulations introduced from July 2018.
We were not convinced that the Department had a clear plan on how it would use the new powers.
Also, the Department could not assure us of its plans to safeguard the supply of medicines after the UK has exited the European Union, which is worrying given that this exit is fast approaching.
Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:
“The impact of last year’s generic drug price increases should have served as a wake-up call to Government.
Clinical commissioning groups ended the financial year with an overspend of some £250 million – the majority of which, NHS England accepts, was due to these price rises.
Difficulty obtaining medicines left patients frustrated and distressed and pharmacists faced additional pressures to secure medicines in short supply.
Yet while the Department of Health and Social Care now has new powers at its disposal, it could not explain to us how these will better enable it to handle similar price increases and related shortages in future.
This is unacceptable and doubly worrying in the context of uncertainty over supply chains after Brexit, particularly for medicines with a short shelf-life.
Government cannot afford to drag its feet on this critical issue, either now or after Brexit.
By the end of this year we expect it to demonstrate it has a clear plan to ensure patients can access the medicines they need, and to mitigate the impact of price rises on desperately stretched NHS resources.”