The cash-strapped NHS has struck up a ‘pay as you cure’ deal for a hepatitis C drug as it desperately attempts to save money.
Under the new deal, which is the first of its kind, the National Health Service will only pay for the medication if a patient is successfully cured.
For those who aren’t cured by taking the medication, its manufacturer, who hasn’t been identified, will cough up and pay the fee.
If it proves successful, the move by NHS England could be adopted for other costly treatments to reduce the nation’s drug bill.
Currently, the health service spends more than £15 billion on the range of drugs it provides every year, according to official figures.
It comes amid repeated cuts to the NHS, which has seen various services scrapped in recent months, creating a ‘postcode lottery’ for many.
Under the new deal, which is the first of its kind, the health service will only pay for the medication if a patient is successfully cured (stock)
The cost-saving move was announced at the NHS Expo conference in Manchester by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
He said cutting back was important for the NHS to reach its ‘full potential’ by making sure it can afford drugs for future generations.
How common is hepatitis C?
Around 215,000 people in the UK are thought to have hepatitis C, figures suggest. The virus can infect the liver.
Left untreated, the condition can lead to potentially life-threatening complications, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.
People contract the virus by coming into contact with the blood of an infected person which can occur by sharing needles, razors or toothbrushes.
TREATMENTS AT RISK
Hundreds of people with rare diseases could miss out on vital treatments after the NHS was ordered to consider bankrolling a controversial HIV pill, it was announced last November.
Toddlers with cystic fibrosis, deaf children and amputees may now be denied a range of new medical devices and breakthrough drugs.
NHS England has a budget of £25million a year for specialised new treatments and equipment for rare diseases.
But the Court of Appeal ruling meant up to £20million may be diverted to provide pills for those at risk of HIV infection due to their high-risk sex lives, including up to 5,000 gay men. Critics fear it will encourage ‘sexual risk-taking’.
The decision put patients at the centre of a price war between a US drugs giant and the NHS, which warned that ‘excessively high pricing’ of the £4,000-a-year pill could put funding for 13 other treatments in doubt.
NHS England had argued it should not have to even consider funding the PrEP treatment, because HIV prevention is not in its remit – insisting local councils should bear responsibility.
What drugs are currently given?
NICE, the health service’s rationing watchdog, recommends that patients are given a combination of two drugs to combat the virus.
One is pegylated interferon, of which versions are made by Roche Products and MSD, which encourage the immune system to attack the virus.
The other is ribavirin, an anti-viral medication that stops it reproducing. The same two drug firms produce their own version of this.
The drug in the new deal, which is given to around 10,000 patients a year, and its manufacturer cannot be named due to commercial confidentiality.
Other innovative ways to save money
Delegates at the conference were told of various innovative ways the NHS has come up with to fund the latest treatments and keep the nation’s drugs bill down.
Mr Stevens also announced how he hopes to save £300 million a year by 2021 by accelerating the uptake of ‘biosimilar’ medicines.
Such drugs are cheaper but as equally effective as ‘biological’ treatments – which mimic substances that humans produce naturally.
NHS figures show that six of the top 10 most expensive medicines prescribed in NHS hospitals are biological products.
At the conference, Mr Stevens also announced a £700,000 investment for auditory brainstem implants – which help to restore hearing in some deaf children.