I had to fight for treatment. Under Labour’s plans, perhaps others won’t have to.
Clare is a patient leader for Just Treatment.
Patient leader, London
It’s been over ten years since I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. At the time, effective treatments didn’t exist. When new drugs finally came to the UK in 2015, they were so expensive that for the first time NHS England rationed treatment for patients like me.
Hep C is a nasty virus, and I was really ill. I was made to wait for treatment, during which time my mental and physical health deteriorated. And still I had to fight for the pills that would cure me. The drugs I needed existed, much of the research had even been done with public money, yet the drug company Gilead wanted the NHS to pay almost £40,000 for a twelve week course. The NHS rationed access to only the sickest patients - and I wasn’t sick enough.
Our medical research and development (R&D) system is broken. Patients should not have to fight to access treatment - if the medicines they need exist, then profit should never stand in the way. But that’s exactly what is happening right now.
We need a system that puts people’s health above wealth, that prioritises patients and their lives above all else. Under the plans announced by Labour this week, the true costs of R&D would be made transparent so that drug companies could no longer hide behind vague and unjustifiable figures. Legal tools would be used to overturn monopolies when these were being abused for excessive profit, and alternative ways of funding R&D would be explored which would change the way we pay for medical research.
In his speech on Tuesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to “redesign the system to serve public health - not private wealth” by creating a new, publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer. These are ambitious policies which could lead to a complete overhaul of our drug system, to the benefit of all of us. We deserve a health innovation system that delivers effective affordable drugs, not one which takes public and philanthropic money, fails in creating many of the advances we need, and still charges sky-high prices.
I fought hard to access the drugs I needed, but I would like to think that one day no-one will have to go through what I did when they’re at their most vulnerable. This week I believe we just got one step closer to that goal.