letters

To regard the advent of new medicines as 'bad news' (news focus, pages 12-13, 22 July) is not just missing the point but distorting the issue.

Modern, effective medicines offer a wide range of economic, as well as health, benefits to patients, doctors, the NHS and the government - as long as amateur economists do not fall into the trap of regarding the drugs bill in isolation.

Medicines are one of the most cost-effective forms of treatment available to the NHS. Sixty per cent of medicines cost less than the NHS prescription charge, and the average cost of a prescription is about£9 compared with£1,400 for a week's stay in hospital.

Clearly, where medicines can be used to keep people out of hospital, or to limit their stay there, they can free resources for use in a more effective way.

Appropriate use of medicines can reduce the cost of ill-health in other areas of the economy - by helping to prevent the further escalation of the£8bn a year spent on social services, for example.

The history of pharmaceutical innovation over several decades has many examples where products initially recognised as highly priced and 'unaffordable' for the NHS have realised their value many times over in clinical practice.

Some 18 months ago, health secretary Frank Dobson said he wanted to create a 'new mindset at the NHS' which would make people 'eager to grasp the opportunities created by new technologies and new drugs'.

And he added: 'New medicines are not a threat.' I can only echo his words.

Professor Trevor Jones

Director general

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

London SW1