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NHS legal victory over drugs companies will save taxpayer millions

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The NHS in the North East has won a landmark legal battle against two drug giants that will save the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Two multinational pharmaceutical companies tried to stop 12 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), including Northumberland, from offering the choice of an ‘undeniably effective and less expensive’ alternative treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD) to its patients.

The condition, which currently affects tens of thousands of people in the UK – including 3,000 newly diagnosed patients in the North East and north Cumbria alone – is currently treated using either Lucentis, sold by Novartis, or Eylea, sold by Bayer.

But last Friday’s decision means that patients can also be offered Avastin as an alternative – a drug around 30 times cheaper than the most expensive alternative.

A well-known cancer drug, Avastin is widely used around the world, including the EU, for the treatment of the potentially devastating eye condition.

It has been found by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to be just as clinically effective and safe as the other two more costly brands.

Siobhan Brown, NHS Northumberland CCG’s chief operating officer, highlighted the news at Wednesday’s (September 26) meeting of the CCG’s governing body.

She said the decision was likely to save the NHS in the North East around £13million a year, with potential annual savings of up to £500million nationally.

The meeting heard that the CCG is on track for its £8million deficit control target for 2018-19, which, if continued, would enable it to qualify for a further £8million of funding and report an in-year break-even position.

However, a break-even position would still see the CCG maintain the same level of historic debt that it started the financial year with – of £57.8million.

The 12 CCGs involved in the legal battle were Northumberland; Newcastle Gateshead; North Tyneside; South Tyneside; Darlington; Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield; North Durham; Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees; North Cumbria; Sunderland; Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby; and South Tees.

Dr David Hambleton, CCG Chief Officer in South Tyneside and lead on behalf of the North East and North Cumbria CCG Forum, said: “We are absolutely delighted that we are now in a position to offer Avastin as an alternative treatment for wet AMD to our patients across the North East and North Cumbria.

“The drug is undeniably, equally effective, and much less expensive, and the money this will save – in excess of £13.5 million per year for the 12 CCGs involved in this litigation alone, and hundreds of millions of pounds across the country – can be ploughed straight back into delivering the very best care possible to our patients.

“Here in the north, that’s enough to pay for an extra 270 nurses or 266 heart transplants every year, and in a financially stretched NHS that could be life-changing for thousands of our patients.

“This is great news for patients with this condition and for the wider NHS. It’s a victory for common sense over commercial interests.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service