Legal challenge delays largest NHS drug procurement

22 January 2019

NHS England’s plan to eliminate hepatitis C in England by 2025 has taken a major step forward after it defeated a High Court challenge by pharmaceutical company AbbVie, which aimed to overturn part of the procurement process.

The NHS was forced to delay the start of its single largest medicines procurement deal – worth almost £1bn over five years – by six months because of the legal action by AbbVie.

AbbVie had claimed in the Technology and Construction Court that NHS England’s procurement procedure for the hepatitis treatment had failed to treat all bidders fairly. But the court rejected all challenges.

Now NHS England has pledged to forge ahead with its procurement project to find and treat people with the virus as quickly as possible.

John Stewart, director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, said: “Court cases such as this are a waste of NHS resources and taxpayers’ money, in this case resulting in an unavoidable delay in our efforts to tackle the threat of hepatitis C, which disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society.

“We remain committed to driving best value to help eliminate hepatitis C in England by 2025 or sooner, and with this court case behind us we can now get on with the job.”

Hepatitis C is a cancer-causing infectious disease, spread by contact with blood, which is estimated to affect around 160,000 people in England, according to NHS England.

New oral tablets mean the disease, which can go undetected until the liver becomes damaged, can be successfully cured in weeks.

NHS England established 22 operational delivery networks to support treatment and testing efforts across the country and over 32,000 patients have been treated so far with around 95% being cured of the disease.

Separately, the NHS is aiming to achieve a £300m saving after negotiating deals with five manufacturers on low cost versions of the health service’s most costly drug, adalimumab, which treats a range of conditions including arthritis and psoriasis.

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