Drugs firms are fined more than £260million for overcharging NHS

Drugs firms are fined more than £260million for overcharging NHS

Drugs firms are fined more than £260million for overcharging NHS as price of life-saving steroids soared by 10,000 per cent

  • UK competition watchdog CMA found fault with Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK
  • Watchdog fined the drug companies £260m for overcharging NHS for a decade
  • The price of the hydrocortisone tablets was increased by 10,000% in 2008
  • Auden Mckenzie also paid off would-be competitors to stay out of the market

The UK competition watchdog has hit several drug makers with fines totalling more than £260 million after they overcharged the NHS for over a decade. 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Thursday that pharmaceutical firms Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK, now known as Accord-UK, used their position as sole providers of the drug to inflate the price of hydrocortisone tablets.

An investigation carried out by the watchdog found that since 2008 when the company was under a previous owner, the price of the drugs was increased by around 10,000% against the price of the branded drug. 

One of the drug companies was also slammed by the watchdog who revealed that they had paid off would-be competitors to stay out of the market. 

An expert warned these are ‘without doubt’ some of the ‘most serious abuses’ uncovered by the competitions watchdog in recent years.

Pharmaceutical firms Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK, now known as Accord-UK, used their position as sole providers of hydrocortisone drugs (pictured, stock image) to inflate its price for almost a decade.

The companies have now been fined  £260m in total fines for overcharging the NHS for a decade. Pictured: Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA

Hydrocortisone pills are used by tens of thousands of people across the UK to treat adrenal insufficiency, which includes life-threatening conditions such as Addison’s disease.

Recent studies have also suggested the pills can help in the treatment of Covid. 

Investigations by the CMA found that the amount the NHS had to pay for a single pack of 10mg tablets rose from 70p in April 2008 to £88 by March 2016, a rise of £12000%. The price of a 20mg tablet also rose by 9,500%.

The impact on the NHS – and ultimately the UK taxpayer – was significant. 

Before April 2008, the NHS was spending approximately £500,000 a year on hydrocortisone tablets. This had risen to over £80 million by 2016.

Auden Mckenzie, headquartered in Ruislip, London (pictured), allegedly paid another company to not sell its own product so Auden Mckenzie, the watchdog says

What is hydrocortisone and what conditions does the medicine treat?

Hydrocortisone is a common steroid which is used to control the body’s immune system and to reduce swelling, itching and pain.

It is used for a huge range of conditions and can come in the form of creams, pills, or injections. 

People who might have had hydrocortisone in the past include those who have had skin problems like eczema or dermatitis, people with arthritis, asthmatics, or those with haemorrhoids, painful joints, persistent mouth ulcers, or colitis.

The steroid is an anti-inflammatory drug and so can also be used for lung problems. 

It is also a lifesaving drug for those suffering with Addison’s Disease in the UK 

Recent studies suggests strong evidence that they can reduce lung inflammation (swelling) in patients with Covid-19 who are seriously ill and require oxygen support for their breathing difficulties.

‘These are without doubt some of the most serious abuses we have uncovered in recent years,’ said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

‘The actions of these firms cost the NHS – and therefore taxpayers – hundreds of millions of pounds.’

The regulator also said that Auden Mckenzie paid off would-be competitors AMCo (now known as Advanz Pharma) and Waymade to stay out of the market.

Actavis UK continued paying off AMCo after taking over sales of hydrocortisone tablets in 2015

Mr Coscelli added: ‘Auden Mckenzie’s decision to raise prices for de-branded drugs meant that the NHS had no choice but to pay huge sums of taxpayers’ money for life-saving medicines.

‘In practice, the NHS was at one point being charged over £80 for a single pack of tablets that had previously cost less than £1.

‘These were egregious breaches of the law that artificially inflated the costs faced by the NHS, reducing the money available for patient care.

‘Our fine serves as a warning to any other drug firm planning to exploit the NHS.’

The regulator said Accord-UK will be liable for £65.6 million of the total fine, while former parent company Allergan should be solely liable for £109.1 million. The pair will also be jointly liable for £2 million.

Accord-UK, Accord Healthcare and the current parent company Intas are jointly and severally liable for £44.4 million, the CMA said.

It added that there is a total fine of £42.8 million for AMCo, while Waymade will be required to pay £2.5 million.

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