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Brexit: what it could mean for drug prices

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 05 November 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6352


Is the NHS “on the table” after Brexit? Looking beyond the soundbites

  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Trading away the UK’s rights to drive down drug prices could cost the NHS half a billion pounds a week, reports Gareth Iacobucci

If the UK loses its ability to negotiate drug prices or to import generic drugs under a trade agreement with the US after Brexit, the NHS’s drug bill could soar from £18bn to £45bn a year, a specially commissioned analysis predicts.

The calculations come from Andrew Hill, an expert on drug pricing, and his team in the pharmacology department at Liverpool University, who were asked by Channel 4’s Dispatches television programme to estimate the effects on NHS drug prices of a new US-UK trade agreement.1 The programme referred to 11 meetings that a Whitehall source said took place between trade officials from both sides of the Atlantic and between British civil servants and the US drug industry.

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the NHS will be off the table in any future trade deal. After the latest revelations, the health secretary for England, Matt Hancock, said that drug pricing would form no part of any future trade discussions with the US and that UK officials would not be allowed to mention it in meetings.

But many UK observers remain unconvinced and are concerned that lobbying by US companies for drugs to be included in any trade deal with the UK chimes with Donald Trump’s agenda to clamp down on what he calls foreign “freeloaders” who he thinks get their drugs too cheaply.2

The US, which has higher drug prices than anywhere else in the world, is currently …

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