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PAC: New DHSC powers may not prevent future medicine price hikes

The Public Accounts Committee has voiced concerns that the Department of Health and Social Care has no “clear plan” for using new powers to obtain information on the generic medicines market.

The comments were made in PAC’s October report on an inquiry into the dramatic price hikes for some generic medicines seen in 2017. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and the National Pharmacy Association were among those who provided evidence to the inqury.

The Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Act 2017, which came into force in July this year, gives DHSC new powers to request information from companies regarding the price and supply of medicines within two days, and makes it mandatory for companies to provide quarterly information on the medicines they sell.

This is aimed at preventing a recurrence of the 2017 issues that saw many pharmacists go to great lengths to ensure patients received their medicines and face uncertainty over reimbursement prices, as well as leading to the NHS spending £315m more on generics than in 2016.

However, PAC said DHSC has not made clear how it will use its new powers and urged the department to “set out the full range of actions it can take to address rises in the price of generic medicines”. PAC was “not convinced” the new powers would be sufficient to enable DHSC to respond effectively to future price rises.

PAC also urged DHSC to share its plans for ensuring medicines supply post-Brexit, as leaving the EU will pose "further challenges to the supply of medicines, particularly for medicines with a short shelf life.

The NPA urged DHSC to act on generic price increases “before the end of this year,” saying all stakeholders want a system "that is cost-effective and works well for patients”.

PSNC regional representative Mark Burdon commented: “Generic medicines shortages are a very complex global issue and with Brexit on the horizon that is likely to remain the case. We would now like to see DHSC working with us to develop a fairer and more responsive concession system.”

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