The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has ruled that Canadian pharmaceutical company Concordia has effectively been ripping off the NHS. Since 2007, Concordia has raised the price of a life-changing drug, for which it was the only supplier, by 6000%. The CMA’s ruling therefore raises deeper questions about the role of the marketplace in our public services.
Lack of competition
Until last year, Concordia was the only global supplier of Liothryronine, a drug used to treat hypothyroidism. Usually affecting those over the age of 40, the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be debilitating. They include weight gain, breathlessness and mobility issues.
When Concordia first sold its treatment to the NHS, in 2007, it cost £4.46 a pack. By 2017, this had increased to a staggering £258.19. For a single tablet, this equated to a rise from 16p to £9.22. Yet the cost of producing the drug remained broadly the same during that period.
CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said:
Pharmaceutical companies which abuse their position and overcharge for drugs are forcing the NHS – and the UK taxpayer – to pay over the odds for important medical treatments. We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of Liothyronine tablets to do exactly that.
The practice is nothing new for companies like Concordia. In October 2016, its CEO Mark Thompson resigned amid accusations of “aggressive price hiking”. In the past, giant US firms like Pfizer and Flynn Pharma provoked similar scandals. British company GlaxoSmithKline was fined heavily for market rigging in January 2016. Such companies wield huge power. Against that, the underfunded and asset-stripped NHS can do little to protect itself, or its patients.
A wrong-headed approach?
The CMA judgement is welcome, but provides no long-term solutions, as big companies will continue to abuse their position. Pharmaceutical corporations, like all corporations, aim solely to maximise profit for shareholders. This is the prevailing system. But it is not a sensible approach to healthcare.
Public services should be run for people, not profit.
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