Political Games

6th November 2015

On Remembrance Sunday I was honoured to lay my first wreath at the Cenotaph in Troon. Despite the wet and windy weather, the occasion brought one of the biggest attendances anyone could remember and the Old Parish Church was full for the service afterwards. In future years, I intend to take part in the Act of Remembrance in a different community within my constituency each year.

That weekend followed one of the most frustrating days I have experienced in Westminster thus far when debating the Off-Patent Drugs Bill. The Bill is designed to address the problem of drugs that are no longer under patent and, despite having since proven to have other clinical uses outside of their original licence are not licensed for this purpose and so aren’t routinely available on the NHS. Whilst there have been other occasions where we have been outvoted, this was far worse, as Tory Health Minister Alistair Burt deliberately spoke at length in order to block the Bill. As such, the MPs attending the debate were denied the chance to vote at all.

Financially, it is not worth the pharmaceutical companies’ while to go through the licensing process for a fresh patent, which means these drugs do not have any mechanism to become licensed for this use. The Off-patent Drugs Bill was a simple and pragmatic attempt to correct this by asking the UK Government to appoint one of the public bodies associated with the NHS to undertake this role. This would ensure that drugs which often cost just a few pence per day would be available routinely throughout the NHS for such conditions as MS and breast cancer, benefitting thousands of patients.

Despite the obvious advantages and the fact it had cross-party support, the Bill was deliberately blocked. Every MP who spoke in the debate did so in favour, but the Health Minister announced just after 2pm that he would speak for 27 minutes and therefore “talk the bill out”, a practice known as ‘filibustering’. MPs taking part in the debate had three attempts to bring the proceedings to a vote, but we were denied each time.

Why would he do this? Maybe I am becoming a bit cynical now that I am a politician at Westminster, but the only logical conclusion is that not passing the Bill will leave the way open for large pharmaceutical companies to slightly modify their drug so they can apply for a fresh patent for the new use. The GMC rules are that a licensed drug should always be the first choice so this will push clinicians towards the new patented version. This brings us back to drugs with a high price tag which the NHS may not be able to afford, which makes no sense at all!

Closer to home, I’m would like to congratulate the Vineburgh Community Centre Management Committee who have successfully obtained funding to improve early learning, health and wellbeing for children under eight years old.