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VPAS: The importance of making the right argument

Author James Mole
Published 20 Feb 2023

Healthcare is evolving rapidly. To stand out from the crowd requires a potent combination of rich insight, breakthrough ideas and flawless execution.

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With key workers’ strikes, inflation, and immense pressure on public services, arguing for a more generous pricing settlement for the pharmaceuticals industry could not be tougher.

A just case made against tough challenges

The environment to argue for a more generous settlement for industry, through the controversial voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access (VPAS), could not be tougher.

But that argument has cut through and cut through well in recent weeks, with balanced front page coverage, supportive commentary in unexpected outlets and widespread agreement that the new scheme must work better for business.

Fundamentally, the reason for this warm reception is that the arguments are correct.

And tactically, the reason that the case for pharma hasn’t been rejected out of hand, is that those making the case have focused on the right issues.

Cultivating innovations for the UK's life sciences

Ultimately, this dry and technical debate matters because it is at the heart of one of the biggest economic and political debates of the next decade: how to support the life sciences sector to deliver new medical innovations to NHS patients and the wider public.

Taking a closer look at all the commentary since The Telegraph and Financial Times made the VPAS debate mainstream at the start of this year, all of the arguments for a fairer and more reasonable clawback rate are centred around advances in science and progress in medicines technology.

A reasonable clawback rate encourages investments and foster innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Deterring investment in the UK will mean new treatments get into NHS referral pathways later, or not at all.

Making it even harder to set up a clinical trial here, contrasted with almost all comparable countries, puts UK technology and jobs at a disadvantage and means research won’t be optimised for people in this country.

Insisting that the industry returns one-quarter of returns above a low threshold, punishes progress and success in healthcare innovation.

Looking past short-term thinking

As a former NHS staffer, I saw first-hand during COVID how extraordinary ingenuity, rapid development and testing of new therapies and partnership between the health service and industry saved lives, led the world and allowed the country to move out of the worst of the pandemic faster.

Although some will look at pleas from pharma as ill-judged when the NHS and wider economy are struggling so much, this is the wrong view and prioritises marginal short-term gain over substantial long-term success.

As negotiations over the next VPAS settlement move forward over the next few months, industry must keep making its case, and keep its arguments grounded in what has cut through successfully in recent weeks: public health gains, scientific progress and economic rewards.

© Hanover Communications 2023, an AVENIR GLOBAL company. All rights reserved.