Purchase of ‘biosimilar’ version of adalimumab, used to treat a range of conditions, may free up funds for more nurses
The NHS is set to make a record-breaking saving after reaching deals with manufacturers on low-cost “biosimilar” versions of its most expensive drug, according to the health service’s chief executive in England.
The deal should save hospitals £300m, which equates to roughly three-quarters of the amount they currently spend, Simon Stevens will announce on Monday.
The saving is the result of the introduction of drugs almost identical to adalimumab, which is prescribed to more than 46,000 patients to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.
Adalimumab was previously available only under the brand name Humira, but its exclusive patent recently expired, allowing the NHS to accept bids from companies who make biosimilar versions. The new drugs should be available to patients from December.
“Harnessing the power of competition between drug companies, NHS England has now freed up hundreds of millions of pounds of savings to reinvest in patient care,” said Stevens.
“This is another example of how the smarter approach to biosimilar medicines in the UK and Europe gives patients and taxpayers a much better deal than they get in the United States.”
He added that the money – the biggest saving in NHS history from a single drug negotiation – would be spent on 11,700 more community nurses or 19,800 more breast cancer treatments for patients.
Peter Carter, former chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing and now an independent healthcare consultant, welcomed the announcement.
“This is very good news and is a very tangible result of the tone Simon Stevens has set over the past few years,” he said, adding that more work must be done to make savings elsewhere across the NHS.
“There are copious examples where other significant savings can be made and this money should be used to reinforce the front line. Of particular concern is the lack of district nurses who not only prevent admission to hospital but also facilitate timely discharge. One of the biggest problem besetting the NHS is that of delayed discharges and any savings should spent in this area.”
Anita Charlesworth, the director of research and economics at the independent Health Foundation, also said more savings were needed.
“The prime minister committed to increase NHS funding by 3.4% a year in real terms over the next five years. While this is a substantial funding boost it is only just enough to meet rising demand and cost pressures from an ageing population and a rising burden of chronic disease,” she said.
“If the NHS is to afford new innovative medicines and improve care in priority areas like mental health and cancer it has to find every opportunity to bear down on avoidable cost pressures and improve efficiency.”
In 2016-17, the NHS spent £18.2bn on medicines, an increase of more than a third since 2010-11. It says it saved more than £200m in 2017-18 by using best-value biological medicines.