WITH the Off-Patent Drugs Bill up for discussion in Parliament today (Friday), politicians, the medical profession and charities remain divided on whether legislation could make a difference to thousands of lives.
Supporters of the legislation say the new law would provide a rubber-stamp of assurance to those administering licence-free drugs, which have been proven to be effective for those that need them most, whilst reducing healthcare bills.
The bill is also supported by a range of medical research charities, leading clinicians and a number of professional bodies including the College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, Royal College of Radiologists and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Jane Freeguard, Head of Medicines Commissioning for NHS South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “NHS South Worcestershire CCG considers any drug where evidence is available to support its use.
“If supported, the bill may increase the range of treatments available.”
And charities claim lives will be lost without legislation because, they say, without government support, pre-purposed drugs cannot be made available to patients to the extent they could be.
Senior policy officer for Breast Cancer Now, Dr Jenny Goodare, told The Standard: “Although they are able to do so, we know clinicians are not routinely prescribe pre-purposed drugs without a licence.
“Without the licence to act as a ‘kitemark’ of safety for treatment, they may feel dis-incentivised, not least because they must take on personal liability for any diverse effects.”
Cancer Research Now claims there are proven off-patent treatments for breast cancer, which can be used off-label outside the terms of their original licence.
A spokesperson from the charity said some of the re-purposed drugs available included Zoledronic acid, which can help prevent secondary breast cancer and save a thousand lives per year at a cost of less than five pence per day per patient.
Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid said there were no barriers to the availability of off-patent drugs on the NHS, an argument that helped shelve the case for the bill to be passed last year.
He told the Standard: “Patients must have access to the best drugs based on quality evidence.
“Current legislation does mean that off-patent drugs are already widely used in the NHS.
“However, to speed up access to innovative NHS treatments, the Government has also established the Accelerated Access Review and is engaging with all interested parties on this important subject.”
In response, a spokesperson for the MS society said it welcomed the Accelerated Access Review, but added that it made no mention of removing the barriers the Off Patent Drugs Bill sought to get rid of.
“The Off Patent Drugs Bill looks to address these barriers by ensuring treatments are properly licensed for their new purpose once they are proven effective.”
A Worcestershire Acute Hospitals spokesperson told The Standard: “We prescribe and use medicines according to the indications and requirements set out in the Area Prescribing Formulary, as is the case for the wider health economy.
“As such, the use of off-patent medicines in this way is relatively low.”