MPs criticise lack of clarity on new drug pricing system

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Department of Health urgently needs to clarify details of its proposed new drug-pricing system, an influential committee of MPs has warned.

The 2010 Coalition Agreement sets out plans to replace the current pricing arrangement - the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) -- with a new, more flexible system known as Value-Based Pricing.

But it has yet to publish details about how this would work in practice, a delay strongly criticised by the Health Committee.

The Government began its consultation on the issue in December 2010, but the drugs industry, patient groups and clinicians have been left in the dark over the changes, the committee said.

The group of MPs said the delays were "unacceptable" and called for decisions to be taken no later than the end of March this year.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and information, supported the committee's findings.

"The Department of Health should urgently publish details of its plans for Value-Based Pricing - as recommended today by the Health Committee. As we said in our evidence to the Committee, it is vital that the new system works for cancer patients and we want to see proposals that guarantee this."

The committee also said there needed to be greater clarity over the future of the Cancer Drugs Fund, which was introduced by the Government in 2011 to allow access to drugs that had not been approved by NICE. This will be superseded by the Value-Based Pricing system.

But the committee called for data on the effectiveness of drugs prescribed under the Fund to be collected and used to help inform the new system. This could also be applied to treatments of conditions other than cancer, according to the report.

Woolnough pointed out that Cancer Drugs Fund has helped more than 25,000 patients to get drugs they may not otherwise have had.

"Data on the impact of the fund should be fed in to plans for Value-Based Pricing to make sure cancer patients don&apost lose out when the Fund ends in March next year," she added.

There also needs to be greater openness about the results of clinical drug trials, with the committee calling for professional and legal obligation to ensure that all regulators, including NICE, have access to all available research data about the effectiveness and safety of drugs sold in the UK.

The pharmaceutical industry should introduce a new code of practice, while the General Medical Council (GMC) should reiterate its guidance to doctors on the conduct of drug trials, said the committee members.

Launching the report, the chair of the Health Committee, Stephen Dorrell MP, said: "What we were told during our inquiry indicates that the move to value-based pricing of drugs will be a more modest change than has been suggested, but there is a lack of clarity around the whole issue which has persisted for too long.

"Decisions need to be taken, and the details of the scheme made public to avoid problems with the transition to the new system at the beginning of 2014.

"We hope the Government will respond positively to our suggestion that this situation should be clarified before the end of March this year."

Copyright Press Association 2013