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Manufacturer pays £8m for its part in fludrocortisone price hiking

CMA: Aspen will commit to ensuring that there will be at least two suppliers of fludrocortisone
CMA: Aspen will commit to ensuring that there will be at least two suppliers of fludrocortisone

Manufacturer Aspen will pay the NHS £8 million for its part in hiking the price of fludrocortisone acetate tablets, following a government investigation.

In 2016, Aspen entered into an illegal, anticompetitive arrangement with two rival unnamed manufacturers regarding the supply of fludrocortisone acetate 0.1mg tablets, and paid them to “stay out of the market”, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) alleged.

“These arrangements left Aspen as the sole supplier of fludrocortisone, with the ability to set prices without facing competition,” the watchdog said today (August 14).

Aspen has now admitted to its part in the illegal arrangement and agreed to pay the NHS £8m “to address the CMA’s concerns that as a result of Aspen’s behavior, the NHS paid a higher price for fludrocortisone”.

The money will be allocated among the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) in England and the equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the CMA said.

Aspen will also commit to ensuring that there will be at least two suppliers of the prescription-only medicine, which is used mainly for the treatment of primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency, commonly known as Addison’s disease, it added.

The CMA’s investigation is still ongoing, but should it decide that the law has been broken, Aspen will also pay a maximum fine of £2.1m.

The other two manufacturers being investigated will be named should the CMA decide to issue a statement of objections, the watchdog explained.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “This is the first time a CMA investigation will secure a payment for the NHS.

“We welcome Aspen approaching us to find a new way of addressing the CMA’s concerns. We believe this resolution will benefit the NHS, patients and taxpayers. Meanwhile we continue to investigate the two other companies we suspect illegally participated in this arrangement.”

Do you regularly dispense fludrocortisone in your pharmacy?

Hanbal Chaudry, Community pharmacist

I can’t for the life of me believe this is one of the few isolated cases. The fraud in my opinion is being carried out by hundreds of wholesalers and manufacturers. Its so widespread that I don’t think the Government even has the capacity to investigate all the competition breaches. My suggestion would be a computer programme looking at all the anomalies in pricing. Nitofurantoin tablets under a tenner and the solution over 500 quid? Puhhhhhhlease a child could see through it. The Government needs to recoup billions and invest the proceeds wisely. Set an example whilst they are at it. This fine is loose change!

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

If this reprehensible practice is to be stamped out one of two things needs to happen.

Either fines are of such a magnitude that individual shareholders in the companies involved take a financial hit and then go on to demand the heads of the directors responsible for the price fixing. At the present fines are derisory compared with the gains.

Or legislation is amended to make it easier for criminal convictions to be brought against the individuals responsible rather than just a financial sanction against the company as a whole.

Sam Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

This needs a little context. £8m fine, but how much did they sell into wholesale and what price? If they sold £20m per annum into wholesale and the NHS reimbursed pharmacies £22m, the £8m fine doesn’t look too bad. If they were selling £5m for past 3 years, the fine still is less than their gains.

David Moore, Locum pharmacist

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