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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Corbyn's plans for big drugs companies could undermine the NHS

Just over two years ago Jeremy Corbyn signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons that expressed concern over the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. It called on the Government to act as necessary to protect employment and skills in the UK, ensure that the development of the new headquarters in Cambridge continues as planned, with the associated infrastructure needs, and ensure that the UK continues to be a world-leader in science and pharmaceuticals research and development.

Now he is proposing to withdraw tax relief for research by drug companies, and suggesting that the development of new drugs should be a job for the NHS. At a billion pounds per new drug that sort of commitment could cripple the NHS, wiping out many times over the mythical windfall hospitals all over the country were promised by Brexiteers.

Surely it cannot be a coincidence that this back of an envelope initiative has come in the wake of the challenge to his leadership by Owen Smith, a former lobbyist for Pfizer. Corbyn says he wants to fight on the issues but in fact he is feeding the abuse directed by many of his supporters at Owen Smith because of the Pontypridd MP's former profession.

The big drug companies are an easy target for the left. One of the reasons given  by the First Minister for Wales not adopting the cancer drug fund for example is that it sends more public money their way. Instinctively I agree that we should not be using public money to swell the profits of multinational companies. The reality though is that without them we would not be getting the sort of medical advances we need if we are all to live longer and healthier.

As the Spectator points out last year the Medical Research Council spent £506 million on research grants. Pfizer spent $6.6 billion (£4.8 billion). And Pfizer is just one drugs company. The world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies between them spent just under £50 billion – 100 times as much as the Medical Research Council.

We simply cannot afford to insist that all research is funded by the Medical Research Council. What are we going to do with those drugs that are developed by the pharmaceutical companies? Because they are going to continue to carry out research for other markets. Will we refuse to use new privately funded drugs in our NHS? Is Corbyn really saying that he is going to deny patients life-saving medicine because they were not developed by the state?

I am interested too in what the unions are going to say about this policy. There are thousands of high quality, well-paid jobs in the UK dependent on research by companies like Pfizer. Is Corbyn happy to drive those job opportunities abroad?

The Labour Party likes to style itself as the founder of the NHS. This policy could well see them undermine and destroy that achievement.
I don't think he was setting it out as a policy goal, he was just expressing an (completely ill informed) opinion, and yes to have a go at Smith.
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