The price of drugs is falling more steeply in the UK than the rest of Europe, it has been claimed.

Department of Health figures show that in 2010 drugs were cheaper in the UK than they were in 10 western European countries, including Germany and Sweden. Drugs were little more than a third of the cost of those in the US.

The picture has changed dramatically since 2004 when only Germany had more expensive drugs than the UK and US prices were less than double of those in the UK.

The analysis was carried out as part of the first review of the 2009 pharmaceutical price regulation scheme, which limits the profits big pharma can make through selling drugs to the NHS. It compared the prices of 250 branded products.

The 167 companies that signed up to the scheme agreed to a 3.9 per cent price cut in 2009 and a further 1.9 per cent cut in 2010 if they sold prescription medicines worth more than £5m to the NHS annually.

In return, the government promised action to support innovation and a more “systemic” approach to patient access schemes - in which the company and government reach agreement on a fair price - and flexible pricing. This would allow companies to change the price of a drug if new evidence emerged about its effectiveness or if it was found to have additional uses.

However, the report found there had been no applications to change prices and only 17 PASs had been set up.

Former DH national quality innovation productivity and prevention lead for medicines use and procurement Peter Rowe told HSJ: “Broadly speaking the report shows we are not paying excessive prices for medicines but the real issue is we have not been as successful as the PPRS envisaged at getting innovative medicines to patients.

“Unless we do that we are not going to be able to make the changes to how we deliver services.”

Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry chief executive Stephen Whitehead said more progress was needed.

“We need to start thinking about medicines as an investment, not just a cost – their use actually saves the NHS money, by remodelling patient pathways, improving outcomes, and releasing NHS capacity by reducing hospital admissions,” he said.

“Despite the report demonstrating that the UK has particularly low prices, patients are still struggling to access medicines as easily or as quickly as our European counterparts.”