The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced an investigation into the prices charged by drug companies.
Evidence suggests that critical medicines are often sold at unreasonable price points, and the non-ministerial government department has been tasked with investigating the matter further.
It is suspected that pharmaceutical firms have breached the law, and punitive measures could be imposed on some of the biggest names in the field.
Regardless of the criminality or otherwise of drug pricing, there is no doubt that some medicines attract extremely high price points.
This often makes it impossible for the NHS system to offer certain drugs to the general public.
Commenting on the issue, the competition watchdog noted in a statement the serious nature of the allegations.
“The investigation relates to suspected unfair pricing by way of charging excessive prices in the supply of certain pharmaceutical products, including to the National Health Service.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt requested the intervention of the CMA back in June, following after an investigation by The Times which suggested companies were exploiting a loophole in NHS rules to raise prices of medicines.
While this sector is strictly regulated, this news once again raises questions about the way that private companies operate within the publicly-funded healthcare system.
Reports had previously indicated that firms are exploiting loopholes in NHS rules in order to raise prices, and this will now be tested by a lengthy public investigation.
Companies have generally been able to charge high prices for drugs due to the fact that they face limited competition with regard to long-established, off-patent drugs, purchased from large pharmaceutical firms.
It has also been reported that the prices of 32 drugs have risen by more than 1,000% over the past five years.
While the pharma industry has naturally been rather quiet on the subject, Concordia International has revealed that it is one of the companies being investigated.
Responding to the investigation, a spokesman suggested that the company is attempting to be cooperative with the investigators.
“We are working co-operatively to better understand the CMA’s position and we will continue to work constructively to resolve the matter. Although Concordia has also had past discussions with the CMA regarding the supply of certain of its products in the UK, this is the first interaction with the CMA regarding the company’s pricing.”
The Times investigation revealed an increase for one drug of 12,500% in five years and, for 32 others, a 1,000% rise.
Naturally this is an extremely serious issue for the NHS at a time of great fiscal malaise.