Could medicines spending be an election issue?

A survey commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has found around half of English adults believe not enough of the NHS budget is being spent on medicines.

The survey of more than 1,700 people found that 52 per cent of them – when presented with the current NHS spending breakdown – concluded that the 10 per cent being spent on medicines is not enough compared with hospitals, healthcare workers, buildings and equipment.

While that represents a slim majority, it does suggest that drug spending could be an issue (albeit relatively small) during next year’s UK general election, according to polling agency ComRes which conducted the survey.

A little over a quarter (27 per cent) of those polled felt the current spend on medicines was about right, while 18 per cent were unsure either way.

Interestingly, more women than men felt spending on medicines should be increased (57 per cent versus 47 per cent), and 60 per cent of the older 55s people also concurred with that view compared to 40 per cent of the 18-24 age bracket.

For the ABPI, it knows that spending on medicines is likely to continue to be squeezed as long as the overall NHS budget remains static, as it has under the current Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government, in power since 2010.  This is despite a new ‘PPRS’ pricing agreement which came into force in January this year, which involves a ceiling on the annual medicines bill, meaning the industry is effectively underwriting the NHS drugs budget.

A possible election issue?

A third of respondents indicated they would be more likely to vote for a political party that promised to make more money available for medicines for people with serious or life-threatening illnesses – even if this may require a reduction in spending in others areas.

The results could give all the UK’s political parties pause for thought, particularly as the NHS seems to be emerging as a major campaign issue and a priority for the next government, despite continuing constraints on public spending.

At their party conferences, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have offered NHS funding increases of more than £1bn, while the Conservatives promised to protect the NHS budget in real terms until 2020.

Earlier this week, senior health officials sent a letter to UK political leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg claiming that NHS and social care services are ‘buckling’ in the face of rising demand and flat budgets.

The ABPI said the survey results indicate that “access to innovative treatments remains a key issue for voters,” pointing to the fact that 90 per cent of those surveyed said they believed the government should do more to make sure that people across the UK can get the latest medicines when they have a serious or life-threatening illness.

ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead said the public is “united in the belief that access to the latest medicines would be a top priority if they had a serious illness.”

“The overwhelming importance of equality of access to medicines, especially for the sickest of patients … goes to show how passionately the public cares about medicines and access to them,” he added.

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