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Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill

Volume 782: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2017

Commons Amendments

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3B and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 3C and 3D in lieu.

Commons Amendments in lieu

3C: Page 2, line 19, at end insert—

“( ) after “body” insert “and any other person the Secretary of State thinks appropriate”,”

3D: Page 2, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Consultation about the proposed exercise of a power under subsection (1) must include consultation about the following—

(a) the economic consequences for the life sciences industry in the United Kingdom;

(b) the consequences for the economy of the United Kingdom;

(c) the consequences for patients to whom any health service medicines are to be supplied and for other health service patients.””

My Lords, I beg to move Motion A. In doing so, I apologise to the House for the late change to the running order. Noble Lords who were expecting—or indeed hoping—that my noble friend Lord Nash would be taking the Bill through will have to make do with me.

We are here again to consider whether and how the Government can take into account the impact that exercising the powers in the Bill will have on the life sciences industry and on access to new medicines for patients who may benefit from them.

When we last debated these issues, I set out clearly the Government’s reasons for disagreeing with Amendment 3B. As I explained at the time, it would undermine one of the core purposes of the Bill by undermining the Government’s ability to put effective cost controls in place. This could encourage companies to bring legal challenges where cost controls have not in themselves promoted growth in the life sciences industry, seriously hindering the Government’s ability to exercise their powers effectively to control costs. This would have a detrimental effect if the Government were to take action to control the price of an unbranded generic medicine where it is clear that the company is exploiting the NHS, because the Government might be challenged on the basis that the action does not promote the life sciences sector. Nevertheless, as I am sure that all noble Lords agree, in such an instance it would of course be the right thing to do for the NHS, for patients and for taxpayers. The powers in the Bill that enable such action have received universal support in both Houses throughout the Bill’s passage.

Through our previous debates on this issue, we clarified that there was no intention to undermine the core purposes of the Bill; rather, the intention is to ensure that a mechanism is laid out in the Bill to ensure that the Government pause to reflect on the impact of any proposed statutory price control scheme on the life sciences industry, and on access to cost-effective medicines. With this clarity, the Government have now put forward their own amendment in lieu which will achieve just that, without undermining the Bill’s core purpose.

Consultation requirements are already set out in Section 263 of the NHS Act, prior to the implementation of any statutory price control scheme for medicines. Our amendment, which received support from all parties in the other place, would mean that the Bill would amend the NHS Act to include particular additional factors that must be consulted on. These are: first, the economic consequences for the life sciences industry in the United Kingdom; secondly, the consequences for the economy of the United Kingdom; and, thirdly, the consequences for patients to whom any health service medicines are to be supplied and for other health service patients.

The requirements are framed in this way in order not only to consider the economic consequences for the life sciences industry and for patients who may benefit from new medicines but to balance these factors against wider considerations. I am sure that we can all agree that, although a thriving life sciences industry and access to new medicines are highly desirable, it must not come at any cost and it is the Government’s responsibility to achieve the right balance and to be held to account for it. As with all consultations, the Government must give all responses due consideration before finalising policy. Setting these requirements out in the Bill does not limit the scope of any consultation on a statutory pricing scheme, offering both the Government and consultees the opportunity to give all relevant issues proper consideration.

The amendment is specific to Section 263 of the NHS Act—that is to say, the powers to put a statutory scheme in place for medicines. Where action is being taken against a specific instance of high prices, it would not be appropriate for it to be subject to such a wide-ranging consultation. In such cases, the NHS Act requires consultation with the appropriate industry body or bodies prior to the exercise of the powers.

With this amendment, the Government have therefore addressed the real intent behind Peers’ concerns, giving assurance of proper, balanced consideration of the effects of any statutory pricing scheme on the life sciences industry and patient access to medicine without undermining the Government’s ability to operate such a scheme. I hope that it will meet with the approval of the House.

Before closing, I thank the many noble Lords who have contributed not only to the development of the amendment but to the Bill as a whole. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as well as my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for their contributions to improving the Bill. Finally, I also thank other noble Lords who have made important contributions to the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Wheeler. I believe that we have worked in a constructive and open spirit and, as a result, the Bill is better and stronger than when we found it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the further thought that he has given to the amendment that your Lordships passed at an earlier stage. I am also grateful to him for his courtesy in showing me the amendments before he went forward with them; I very much appreciate that. I accept the Government’s arguments for the new approach that they have provided on the set of concerns that we had across the House about the adequacy of the provisions in the Bill on the life sciences industry and on speedy access to NICE-approved drugs. I accept their arguments that the original amendment was to some extent too restrictive on their freedom of manoeuvre when they need to act on unreasonable high prices. The Government have skilfully met the concerns of your Lordships’ House and I am very pleased to be able to support the amendment.

While I am on my feet, I will also thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he has listened to concerns throughout this Bill and taken the issues away, considered them with his officials and come back and tried to respond to many of the concerns. Across the Benches of this House, we are grateful for the way in which he has conducted the discussions during the passage of the Bill.

My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend is on the Front Bench to see this Bill safely through. I share with colleagues an appreciation of how he and officials from the department have worked consensually, carefully and considerately to try to make the Bill as good as we can make it. I welcome the amendments in lieu; they point to a sensible way forward in relation to the consultation on the statutory scheme. I would ask that my noble friend is equally clear that, in the negotiations leading to any voluntary scheme, Ministers will have regard not only to their statutory duties, as we have discussed, but to these considerations reflected in this amendment. One purpose of the Bill is to make a voluntary and a statutory scheme entirely consonant, one with the other.

The only other point that I would make is that, of course, when one passes legislation it is about not just the law but the administration that follows and accompanies it. In that context, it is important that Ministers take these powers, but it is equally important that in the administration of those powers, not least in working with NHS England and NICE, they work in the same constructive fashion to see that the impact on the life sciences industry and the accessibility of the best available treatments for patients, at a price representing value for money, are integral to the purposes of the legislation. I hope that they will equally be part of the further action that the Government take with NHS England and NICE to ensure that, however they manage the budgetary impacts as they must, they do so in a way that has the interests of patients and the country at heart.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his hard work on the Bill and his helpfulness. I have one question. As this is a global matter, how can the Government assure us that the prices of drugs will come down?

My Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s answer to that last question. From the opposition Benches, I very much welcome the agreed amendment that has come forward from the Government today. It is good to see how wash-up can concentrate minds no end, and we have reached a very satisfactory outcome. I am very grateful to the Minister and his officials for their co-operation on this.

The Opposition have been in no doubt whatever that it is absolutely right to take action against those companies that have clearly been abusing the system. We should also pay tribute to the Times newspaper for its campaign, which has opened up some transparency in a pretty murky area.

There are two key issues that need to be taken forward. First, the key message of debates in your Lordships’ House is that, in seeking to deal with this particular problem, we must not underestimate the contribution of the pharmaceutical industry to this country, to the economy and to the life sciences sector. We have a problem in that we are incredibly innovative in the number of new drugs that are developed in this country, but the NHS is finding it increasingly difficult to invest in them and patients are not getting the benefit.

The second is the whole question of balance between the statutory and voluntary schemes—the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to this. I have reached the conclusion that the current arrangements are simply not up to scratch in relation to how government should negotiate with the industry in the future. The patent lack of transparency about the real price paid by the NHS for individual drugs means, in my view, that the arrangements are no longer fit for purpose. I hope that the Government—whichever Government are in power post election—will look afresh at the need for new arrangements in negotiation which get a fair price and also lead to the adoption of innovative new drugs for NHS patients.

Can the Minister say when he thinks the Government will be in a position to implement the key provisions in this Bill in relation to prices?

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their warm words and I reciprocate those feelings: it has been a very interesting, challenging and enjoyable experience working with noble Lords on this Bill on what is—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has pointed out—a critical matter. It is critical not just that we get the best possible prices for drugs and that we crack down on those who are trying to rip off the system, but that we make sure we are also supporting the life sciences industry and are improving access for patients.

I am particularly grateful for the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and I appreciate his support for this amendment. My noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made the point about the equivalence between the voluntary schemes and statutory schemes. There is equivalence in law and equivalence in spirit. It is in the nature of voluntary schemes that they take into account issues around access and life sciences, because that is, in a way, why they come about. You would not have one if you could not have some agreement on that. By making this amendment today we have provided something that was taken into account by the voluntary schemes by moving it into the statutory schemes and providing that equivalence.

My noble friend is quite right about the need to work in a constructive manner. It is possible to create a system in which the interests of patients, industry and the NHS align. There is no necessary reason for them to be in conflict and, indeed, we all want a system where we have improved access and keen prices that raise the standard of care available on the NHS.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in congratulating the Times on its investigations, which continue. Indeed, I think that there was a story at the beginning of the week or the end of last week about that. It has put a turbo boost under this, but clearly there is more to do. This Bill will allow us to get up stream and not have to wait until things get to the Competition and Markets Authority many years down the track; it will allow us to improve things up front.

As to whether the current arrangements are up to scratch and what might happen in the future, noble Lords will understand if I resist making a comment on what might happen in the future, or what a future Government might do. My own observation—this is my way of answering the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, which I will avoid slightly—is that any new system ought to be trying to rebalance spending towards innovative drugs, which can of course be done in any fiscal envelope; it is not necessarily a point about spending per se but about the balance of spending. Any system would probably benefit from being both simpler and quicker. I am sure that is something that Ministers in the Department of Health, whoever they may be after the next election, will want to grapple with.

I thank my officials who have done a fantastic job and have worked very hard with noble Lords across the House on the Bill and on amendments. I am very grateful to them. I think that 24 government amendments have now improved the Bill.

On a personal note, I have very much enjoyed taking my first piece of legislation through your Lordships’ House. Pending the election result, it may be my last, but I hope it will not be. Others may disagree.

My Lords, I will not comment on that last remark. The key clause is Clause 5. Can I take it that once the Bill receives Royal Assent the Government can implement that straightaway?

I believe that would be the case. Of course, there is a difference between what officials can do and what Ministers can give instructions to do in a period of purdah. However, as soon as the measure is in law, it is enforceable.

Motion A agreed.