Q&A: How would a Trump-Boris Trade deal affect UK Drug Prices?

Eugenia Marna interviewed Dr Andrew Hill, Liverpool University, on how a US-UK post-Brexit trade deal could affect UK drug prices.

Dr Hill recently featured in Dispatches programme Trump's Plan for the NHS (recommended watch - Only 5 days left!)

See the transcript below:

Eugenia: What are your biggest fears for the future of the NHS if we do not stop the Tories?

Dr Hill: If the UK leaves the European Union, it is likely that a new US-UK Trade deal would need to be signed. Judging from previous US trade deals, this could include several conditions which could damage the NHS.

US drug companies could demand higher prices for their drugs. Currently, we have the National Institutes for Clinical and Health Care Excellence who control drug prices - their powers could be greatly diminished. The patents on drugs could be extended, meaning that prices on branded drugs would stay higher for longer.

US companies could also gain the legal right to sue the NHS if their demands were not met. Finally, if we had to change our laws after a US-UK trade deal, companies from other countries could then demand the same privileges, so the prices of all branded drugs could start to rise over time.  

Eugenia: How much of patient safety and good quality healthcare is a result of the UK being a full member of the EU?

Dr Hill: With the current system of pricing controls in the UK, we enjoy some of the lowest drug prices for the NHS. New trade deals post-Brexit could endanger this. 

We seem to forget how much there is at stake.

Eugenia: What are the truths that you often realise the public needs to understand? 

Dr Hill: US drug companies are already trying to increase drug prices and undermine the power of the NHS to control them. If we look at Cystic Fibrosis, the US drug company Vertex refused to accept a generous pricing agreement from the NHS for four years.

During these four years, community groups have estimated that 270 people died because of no access to the medicines for cystic fibrosis -  many of them children. Also during this time, Vertex destroyed over 7,000 bottles of their medicine, rather than sell it to the NHS at the prices offered. Vertex are charging £240,000 per person per year for their new treatment for Cystic Fibrosis.  This is ten times higher than the older treatments just approved in the UK. This type of example shows the potential for huge escalations in drug prices if we accept the demands of the US pharmaceutical industry.