The threat to the NHS is not confined to the way it is being slowly privatised by the Tories and their Lib-Dem stooges – a process which was shamefully initiated by the last Labour Government and about which Labour remains largely silent in the run up to the General Election. The other threat is of even longer standing and relates to the way the big pharmaceutical companies, Big Pharma, operate. This was illustrated this week by two news items. First, it was announced that NHS England is to delay the introduction of Sofobuvir, a drug that can save the lives of people infected by the hepatitis C virus because the manufacturer, Gilead, is charging too much. In the US Sofobuvir costs $1,000 a pill. Gilead want to charge the NHS a still exorbitant £35,000 for a twelve week course or £75,000 for the 24 week course many patients will require.
The other news item is the report from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that the price of life-saving vaccines has skyrocketed leaving some countries struggling to fully immunise children. MSF say there has been a 68-fold increase in prices between 2001 and 2014 and it accuses Big Pharma of overcharging, especially developing countries.
When accused of over-charging, the response by Big Pharma is always the same: they say that their pricing reflects the cost of research and manufacture. These businesses are, however, almost completely opaque organisations, depend on states to afford them extended patents, research what is most profitable and spread this highly secret research, and their manufacturing and marketing, internationally, enabling them to play off one country against another and to take full advantage of tax havens. Essentially they charge whatever they can get away with.
A partial remedy would be provided by the tax reforms and more transparent accounting called for in a recent discussion pamphlet from the Communist Party From Each According to Their Means[i].Reform of the tax system and more transparent accounting would, however, not be a complete remedy. Capital will always find a way to secure its own interests, whether by buying the politicians or by outright deception. What’s wrong with the pharmaceutical industry is what’s wrong with capitalism as a whole: it’s run without consideration for the wider good and to benefit a small group of shareholders, especially those with significant amounts of capital at their disposal. It is not run in the interests of people who need the products and services generated, whether they be poor people in developing countries or the working people in developed countries like the UK.
The complete remedy is a democratic society in which investment, including pharmaceutical research, is organised and planned in order to meet the needs of ordinary working people, not the interests of the capitalist class – essentially the 1%. What’s this system called? Socialism! Or, as we prefer to call it when it has been fully developed, Communism.
[i] Available from the Communist Party, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. £2.50 including postage.