The NHS BSA and drugs charging issues – an apology

I owe the National Health Service Business Services Authority (BSA) an apology. Last week we suggested they should be doing more to stop the  scandal of firms charging way over the odds to the NHS for generic ‘drug’ products like cod-liver oil capsules.

It is now clear that this is nothing to do with the BSA, who merely manage the payments process to dispensing contractors across England. They’re not responsible for negotiations with suppliers or agreeing prices for drugs and other items prescribed.

I should have checked the facts more thoroughly, and by now I should really know not to believe everything we read in the papers, even the broadsheets, which is where I got the story from.  As usual, I was rushing and that’s when you don’t follow through and check – and I feel even worse because I know (and rate highly) some of the people at the BSA, so really I could and should have taken a bit more time to get their side of the story.

So who should be taken to task for this? Well, that’s when it all gets a bit murkier. We get into the deep waters of the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, which I believe is understood only by about 3 people in the country. Drugs pricing is political as well as commercial, as the Pharma companies use their leverage in terms of jobs and investments to lobby at Ministerial level. That isn’t anything to do with this case (the expensive cod-liver oil tablets) but it does show that this is far from a conventional procurement spend category.

It appears that responsibility probably lies somewhere in the centre of the Department of Health, but I’m not going to make accusations and suffer the same mistake twice! But if our informed readers understand the process well enough to suggest what could be done to stop unscrupulous firms, doctors and pharmacists ripping off the NHS in this way, please let us know.

And again, many apologies again to the BSA and their procurement team in particular. Drinks on me when I’m next in Newcastle.

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