Value-Based Pricing Discussions Passed to Jeremy Hunt

The new UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt will be thrown into the deep end this month as he heads straight into negotiations over value-based pricing (VBT).

Andrew Lansley, who was both the designer and lead for the value-based pricing discussions, was removed from the post of health secretary on Tuesday in a Cabinet reorganisation.

The discussion will therefore now be passed to Hunt, who has no parliamentary experience with pharma or the NHS, and must now work with the difficult negotiations over the design of the UK’s new drug pricing scheme.

Hunt, who is a Conservative MP for south west Surrey, was previously the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport.

He informed the BBC that he was ‘incredibly honoured’ to be given the role of health secretary, noting that “it is a huge task and the biggest privilege of my life.”  The Liberal Democrats’ MP Norman Lamb has also been selected as minister for care services in the reorganisation, taking over from Paul Burstow.

Limited Health Experience

Looking through Jeremy Hunt’s previous health voting record and speeches, he is anti-abortion and does not support the use of stem cells in research, whilst also favouring homeopathy.

Hunt has no prior professional experience dealing with health or pharma.  However, he lists his proudest political achievement as being when he was working with local campaigners in Guildford to save the Royal Surrey County Hospital’s A&E department from closure in 2006/07.

He authorised a rally and a candle-lit vigil at Parliament, which resulted in the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) deciding to keep the department open.

However, current thinking from the NHS Confederation and the King’s Fund is that these departments, and a number of hospitals, should be closed to help make large savings, and create more personalised community care.

This could potentially be an area that Mr Hunt and NHS managers will clash on in the future.

VBP Discussions Should be Postponed

The first clash could be VBP, as Hunt will now go straight into discussions with the ABPI over the future of UK drug pricing.  However Julia Manning, chief executive of the industry think-tank 2020Health, commented that it would be sensible for Hunt to postpone the negotiations.

She noted to PharmaTimes that as the government has to renegotiate the PPRS regardless of what happens, “it would seem sensible for [Hunt] to focus on this and postpone negotiations on changing the pricing system for new drugs.”

Manning added that “this gives everyone more time to think about what data and structures would be required for a new system to be truly effective with no detriment to the pharmaceutical industry’s investment in research, clinical trials and above all patients in the UK.”  Whatever happens, a new system will have to be in place by 2014 as this is when the existing five-year PPRS scheme finishes.

Controversial Appointment

Jeremy Hunt is a controversial figure as he had a close friendship with the owners of News Corporation (the Murdoch family) whilst supervising an acquisition bid from the business for BskyB, the British broadcasting arm of Sky.

Earlier this year, Labour forced a Commons’ vote on his position after they considered he had broken the ministerial code as a result of his bias, but he survived the vote and kept his position.

However, the opposition was still disappointed by his appointment; shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher commented after the appointment: “Jeremy Hunt, the man who broke the ministerial code and failed to stand up to News Corporation, is now in charge of the NHS, our most cherished national institution.”

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