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NHS overcharged by £100m on ‘low-value’ liothyronine, finds watchdog

A drug company has been overcharging the NHS by more than £100m over the past 10 years for the thyroid drug liothyronine, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found.

The CMA found that drug company Concordia has increased the cost of the drug by almost 6,000% in a decade.

The drug, which is used to treat hypothyroidism, cost £4.46 before it was de-branded in 2007 but had risen in price to £258.19 by July 2017.

As a result, the CMA could impose a fine on the drug company amounting to 10% of its annual worldwide turnover.

This comes after NHS England released a consultation on restricting the prescribing of 18 over-the-counter and ‘low value’ items, of which liothyronine was one.

The consultation document, released in July, said ‘significant costs’ and ‘limited evidence to support its routine prescribing’ meant GPs should only prescribe the drug in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

However, the BMA’s response to the consultation said the drug should never be prescribed in primary care, adding that patients on liothyronine ‘have complex endocrine needs and should be under the care of a consultant who should be responsible for any deprescribing required’.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: ‘Pharmaceutical companies which abuse their position and overcharge for drugs are forcing the NHS – and the UK taxpayer – to pay over the odds for important medical treatments.

‘We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of liothyronine tablets to do exactly that.’

However, she added that ‘there has been no definitive decision that there has been a breach of competition law’, with the CMA to consider ‘any representations from the companies before deciding whether the law has in fact been broken’.

In a statement, Concordia said: ‘We do not believe that competition law has been infringed. 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.’

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