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NHS overcharged over £34m for essential medicine

The NHS has been overcharged millions for an essential medication, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has declared.

Last year the NHS spent over £34m on liothyronine tablets - a stark increase from the £600,000 it paid for it in 2006.

The CMA has been investigating how much pharmaceutical company, Concordia, has been charging the NHS for the drug, used to treat hypothyroidism.

The condition is caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone, which can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain, and affects around two in 100 people.

Liothyronine is not the first line treatment for an underactive thyroid, but for many patients there is no suitable alternative, and until earlier this year Concordia was the only supplier.

Before the drug was de-branded  in 2007, it cost around £4.46 per pack, before this shot up by almost 6,000% by July 2017 to a cost of £258.19, with production costs remaining stable.

Chief executive of CMA, Andrea Coscelli, said that pharmaceutical companies “abuse their position” when they overcharge for drugs, “forcing the NHS - and the UK taxpayer - to pay over the odds for important medical treatment.”

He added: “We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of liothyronine tablets to do exactly that.”

Coscelli went on to explain that the CMA’s findings are provisional at this stage, and there has not yet been a definitive decision that the company has breached competition law.

“We will carefully consider any representations from the companies before deciding whether the law has in fact been broken,” he concluded.

The CMA addressed its Statement of Objections to Concordia, as well as Cinven and HgCapital - private equity firms and previous owners of entities which now form part of Concordia.

In a statement issued today, Concordia denied any infringement of competition law.

The company said: “The pricing of liothyronine has been conducted openly and transparently with the Department of Health in the UK over a period of 10 years.

“Over that time, significant investment has been made in this medicine to ensure its continued availability for patients in the UK, to the specifications required by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.”

Concordia will review the CMA’s preliminary position and says that it will respond in detail and will cooperate with the authority’s investigation.

This is not the first CMA case in the pharmaceutical sector, after Pfizer and Flynn Pharma were recently hit with a fine of almost £90m due to the “excessive and unfair” cost of epilepsy treatment, phenytoin sodium capsules.

A number of other drugs companies have also been fined a total of £45m in relation to the sale of anti-depressant medicine, paroxetine.

Both of these decisions are currently the subject of appeals.

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