Playing NICE

The NHS wants people to die. At least that’s what news stories told me last week, as NICE, the people who decide which drugs the NHS will offer to patients, were slammed for refusing to offer an expensive new kidney cancer treatment. They claimed it was simply too expensive. Other people screamed about how wrong it was that NICE and the NHS would not buy the treatments, regardless of the cost. Those people were mainly representatives from big pharmaceutical companies. Well slap my bottom and file me under ‘S’ for ‘shocked’. The guys standing to make a profit don’t think they’re too expensive? Well, then that settles it.

Now, I don’t want to sell you Parisian steak (or, ‘flog a dead horse’), but is it just possible that the incredibly huge entirely profit-motivated corporations are the ones being mean, rather than the organisation whose sole aim is to support a system that gives medicine to people for free?

Let’s look at the evidence. The Office of Fair Trading (and I do love those guys) last year reported that the NHS had been overcharged by these same drug companies (the ones now playing the ‘life is priceless’ card) to the tune of £8bn. Their brand name drugs were shown to be ten times more expensive than other treatments that achieved similar results. In 2003 drug companies were investigated for fraud because of allegations they had conspired to raise the price of an essential antibiotic (used to fight everything from salmonella to pneumonia) by 260%.

Are you really sure you trust the drug companies’ word on these things? Is that really smart?

But let’s be fair. Drug companies need to make big profits because if they don’t they cannot fund the development of new drugs. And new drugs do not come cheap. Ah, well then, I guess the drugs companies are justified, and it’s all for the greater good? Not so much, actually.

Of the 1,325 drugs produced over the years covered by a recent World Health Organisation survey, only 11 specifically targeted tropical diseases like malaria. According to The Independent, 80% of drug company research budget is directed at developing drugs ‘that offer no real therapeutic advance.’ More importantly, the marketing budgets of ‘Big Pharma‘ (as campaigners call massive drug manufacturing behemoths) dwarf what they spend on research and development. Sure, they spend much more developing treatments for ‘rich man’s diseases’ like Viagra, but they spend a lot more convincing people to buy it.

Drug companies are not the good guys. They are, at best, the neutral guys. Like people who pray in public so that others will think well of them, as Jesus said, they have already received their payment in full. Mostly in the form of obscene bonuses for executives and dividends for shareholders, most of whom do not live in the countries affected by the diseases their companies do not care about.

Bringing Jesus into this is irrelevant, you say? Is it? The God-man who went Around healing the sick because they needed it and not because they could afford it, the Saviour we worship who calls us to heal – Jesus Christ – you think he does not care about this? I think he does. I think we should too. At least, as far as not allowing our sympathies to be used for profit; at most, doing something to change it, like supporting not-for-profit initiatives like International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Wellcome Trust, and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria – none of whom are working on a cure for impotence or crows feet.

This is what it’s like in America, where they listen to drug companies more:

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