UK NHS sells £4m of drugs abroad in 2009

The Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) NHS Foundation Trust said it had made a £300,000 profit from the trade during the past year.

The practice has been declared “wholly unacceptable” by the Department of Health (DoH), leading to a shortage of essential drugs in the UK.

But the Guildford-based trust said it had sold drugs under licence and had not sold any which were in short supply. The trust’s activities were exposed in an investigation by the Health Service Journal which involved checking information obtained through a freedom of information request with the Trust’s finance reports.

A RSCH Trust spokeswoman said: “The Royal Surrey County Hospital has a history of manufacturing and supplying drugs to other health care organisations under a licence which we hold. We have more recently also supplied a wholesaler with drugs that are widely available.

“The amount of income received from this source in 2009/10 is estimated at £4.6 million, contributing a margin to the trust of around 6%, or £300,000. At no time were drugs supplied which were on the PASA list of drugs in short supply.

“The board decided to cease trading in January 2010 and the trust refutes the statement that it has made millions. As already stated, the total surplus from this activity is estimated to be £300,000 in the full 2009/2010 year.”

A DoH spokeswoman said: “The department is aware of a report that hospitals have considered trading in medicines for short term financial gain. Such activities are wrong and threaten the medicines supply chain and patient care. The Chief Pharmaceutical Officer wrote to all chief hospital pharmacists in England on 14 July 2009 to make clear that such behaviour is wholly unacceptable and contrary to acceptable professional behaviour. This message was reinforced in guidance published last November by the Government together with supply chain organisations on the legal and ethical duties that apply to manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies and hospitals.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb called for a DoH investigation to be launched. He said: “To find out that an NHS Trust has been making money from potentially fatal problems in the availability of drugs beggars belief. Patients across the UK have been put at risk by the dramatic increase in the export of pharmaceuticals. The revelations about the activities of this hospital require an urgent investigation by the Department of Health.”

The problem of drug sales abroad has been previously condemned by Health Minister Mike O’Brien, who has called for an emergency summit to address the practice. He said that NHS drug shortages were being worsened by “unscrupulous” speculators who were “putting profit before patients” by selling drugs intended for NHS use abroad.

A hospital trust has been criticised after it admitted selling more than £4 million worth of drugs abroad.

Source: Press Association

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