Tuesday, 13 March 2012
A bitter pill that the NHS must swallow to avoid collapse? Can I get a second opinion, please?
"Caring for the ageing population and covering the annual £600m of new drug treatments mean NHS costs are rising at an unaffordable rate and underline why we need to rethink how the system works"
- Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, Tuesday 13 March 2012
Part of the case for change that has been repeatedly used to support the proposed Health and Social Care Bill is the escalating cost of medicines. Now, leaving aside whether or not the proposed Bill does anything to address this, let's take a look at whether the actual data supports such a claim. After all, it's important that the justifications given for the Health and Social Care Bill stand up to scrutiny, otherwise we'd be left wondering why exactly is it being brought in?
The two graphs below are based on data from the last ten years - by looking across the decade, the claim that has been made, and asserted as a fact, is that 'The cost of medicines is growing by over £600m per year'.
Well, first and foremost, it isn't. And secondly, using the full decade of data looks like a pretty dubious and spurious choice to me.
Here's the data supplied by the Department of Health. As you can see, the last time the cost of medicine grew by over £600m was back in 2004/05. For the five years since then, it has not once risen by £600m.
We can also look at the annual percentage increase as well as the annual actual increase in the cost of medicine, just to double check that there isn't any out of control escalation.
Yes, the percentage increase has crept up slightly over the last three years, but it is still well below the annual percentage increase that was witnessed in the first four years of the 21st century.
So why do I think the Government is using the full decade of data? It's because the oldest data makes their claim look the least dodgy (although even that doesn't make it dodge-free). Using the most recent five years of data, rather than the full ten years, the annual increase in the cost of medicine plummets from £580m to £390m.
Not such a bitter pill after all? And is the annual increase in cost of medicine really justification for the Health and Social Care Bill? To put it into context, the NHS budget for 2011/12 is around £106bn.