UK drug companies fined £260m for inflating prices for NHS

Watchdog issues warning after abuses that included paying would-be rivals to stay out of the market

Last modified on Thu 15 Jul 2021 03.57 EDT

The UK’s competition watchdog has imposed fines totalling more than £260m on pharmaceutical companies after an investigation found that they overcharged the NHS for hydrocortisone tablets for almost a decade.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that the drug’s makers Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK, now known as Accord-UK, used their position as the sole providers of hydrocortisone to inflate the price of the drug. Tens of thousands of people in the UK depend on hydrocortisone tablets to treat adrenal insufficiency, which includes life-threatening conditions such as Addison’s disease, the CMA said.

The investigation found that the companies were able to inflate the price of hydrocortisone tablets by over 10,000% compared with the original branded version on sale in 2008. This meant 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.

The companies also paid would-be rivals to stay out of the market, the watchdog found.

“These are without doubt some of the most serious abuses we have uncovered in recent years,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive at the CMA. “The actions of these firms cost the NHS – and therefore taxpayers – hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Before April 2008, the NHS spent about £500,000 a year on hydrocortisone tablets, but this had risen to more than £80m by 2016.

The decision to hike the price of de-branded drugs meant that the NHS “had no choice but to pay huge sums of taxpayers’ money for life-saving medicines” and reduce the money available for patient care”, Coscelli said.

“Our fine serves as a warning to any other drug firm planning to exploit the NHS,” he added.

The CMA has found that Accord-UK should be held solely liable for £65.6m of the total £260m fine, while its former parent company, Allergan, should be solely liable for £109.1m. The pair are jointly liable for a further £2m. Accord-UK, Accord Healthcare and the company’s current parent company Intas are jointly and severally liable for £44.4m.

The CMA’s total fine for AMCo’s conduct is £42.8m, and for Waymade is £2.5m.

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