David Hanson (in the Chair)
The previous Chair set a time limit on speeches of six minutes, which has been successful, in that all right hon. and hon. Members have been able to take part in the debate, but it leaves us with a maximum of one hour and 10 minutes for the Front-Bench speakers to respond. Front-Bench speakers, who have more than the normal 10 minutes, can be more flexible and take interventions should they so wish.
The other point I wish to make is that because the winding-up speeches have started early, some Members who have spoken in the debate are not present for these speeches and they should be. If you are watching on television, please return to the Chamber now. This is an important debate; you have contributed to it and you should be present for the Front-Bench responses.
Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
10 Jun 2019, 6:23 p.m.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for setting out in his opening speech facts that a lot of us did not know and facts that some of us did. It was a very useful start to this wide-ranging and well attended debate. I will just ask this question, though: how many times do we have to debate this very serious subject?
Again, I have to declare a personal interest. I am a cystic fibrosis carrier. My late husband was, too. My children are carriers, and my granddaughter, Saoirse Grace, has cystic fibrosis—mutations F508del and D1152H. I do not understand to any great degree what the last part of that actually means, but I do know that she is not the worst sufferer of cystic fibrosis. She has the best kind, if you like. She is pancreatic sufficient, and for that we are always grateful. Saoirse will not directly benefit from Orkambi, but along with 90% of people with cystic fibrosis in the UK, she will benefit from the triple therapy coming down the line. Those therapies will deliver unprecedented improvements in acute lung health and reductions in pulmonary exacerbations—a key driver of decline.
Approximately 900 people in Scotland live with cystic fibrosis. NHS Scotland estimates that one in 24 Scots has a CFTR mutation, which, if carried by both parents, would lead to a child being born with cystic fibrosis. England has the highest prevalence of cystic fibrosis in the world, with 1% of the world’s population but 12% of the world’s CF population.
There should be no postcode lottery for treatment. The UK Government should follow the Scottish Government’s lead on cystic fibrosis treatment. For people in England to receive Orkambi, NHS England would need to pay Vertex £500 million over five years and £l billion over the next 10 years. However, in a debate on CF and Orkambi last year, it was stated that the costs of Orkambi can be offset by reduced hospital admissions, and other benefits should also offset the cost, as has been stated in the Chamber today. Vertex has stated that its offer to NHS England for the provision of its CF drugs represents the lowest price for Vertex’s portfolio of CF drugs in any country in the world. I point out that I am not here to make a case for Vertex; I am here to make a case for people with CF who need this drug.
The Scottish Government recently announced that NHS Scotland and Vertex Pharmaceuticals had reached a deal to provide interim access to Orkambi and Symkevi, through a system known as peer approved clinical system tier 2, while the Scottish Medicines Consortium reviews the relevant evidence for Orkambi. PACS tier 2, introduced by the Scottish Government in June 2018, involves an individual application for patient access to drugs not recommended by the SMC and not routinely available on the NHS.
The Scottish National party believes that the UK Government need to do more to facilitate interim access to Orkambi and other drugs to treat cystic fibrosis and to get NICE to re-evaluate making the drug more widely available for people living with the illness. In England, NICE said Orkambi was too expensive for the NHS in 2016, and since then Vertex and NICE have been unable to reach an agreement that will bring these drugs to patients. The UK Government are showing a lack of flexibility by only urging Vertex Pharmaceuticals to fully re-engage with the NICE appraisal process and to accept the offer that the NHS made in July 2018. Vertex has said that the methods used by the Scottish Government to obtain the drugs reflect the innovative nature of medicines that have the potential to extend life for patients with rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis, and that it is hopeful that, through that process, all eligible patients in Scotland could have access to its medicines soon. If Orkambi and Symkevi are accepted by the SMC, which makes decisions independently of the Scottish Government, eligible patients in Scotland could have access to these precision CF medicines in 2019.
In the interim, Vertex and the Scottish Government have agreed a confidential discount that would be applied to approved PACS tier 2 applications. The Scottish Government also asked Vertex to provide access to the medicines at a discounted price to the list price while they finished the contract negotiations, and Vertex said, “Of course.” Vertex stated that it would be willing to do exactly the same thing in England.
There is agreement across the Chamber that Orkambi, Symkevi and Vertex’s triple therapy should be available UK-wide. I have no desire to get into the argument between NICE and Vertex in England. I want England to do what Scotland has done. I want children across the UK to get the benefits of these drugs. As has been said, this problem will exist whatever view we hold of Government at the UK level. However, political will must be exercised in the process of getting those with cystic fibrosis the drugs that will improve their lives and futures.
Finally—I will not take too long, Mr Hanson—I give my heartfelt thanks to all the parents and guardians of CF sufferers, and to those affected by cystic fibrosis, for their continuous campaigning and awareness-raising. It is awful that they have to keep doing that. I ask the Minister, please do not let their work be in vain.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
10 Jun 2019, 6:31 p.m.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, in this very important debate. I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for opening this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee and for his excellent opening speech, in which he took many interventions. I thank all hon. Members for their passionate contributions. I counted more than a dozen speeches by Back Benchers, but I lost count, because I was distracted by the mouse that joined us. Given that it has been such a busy day in the main Chamber, this debate has shown how important this issue is to the House, as well as to all our constituents who have signed this important e-petition.
Access to drugs for patients with cystic fibrosis is an issue that is incredibly important to us all. I congratulate, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on their tireless campaigning on this issue, along with patients, campaigners and charities, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. I commend the trust for its expert briefings and support to patients and their families over many years.
Finally, I thank the 108,144 people who signed this e-petition, 310 of whom live in my constituency. As has been said, we debated a similar e-petition in March 2018, and there have already been five parliamentary debates about access to such medicines. I hoped, as others did, that by now cystic fibrosis patients would have access to the drugs that they need and deserve. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Just over a year ago, on 16 May 2018, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), the Prime Minister called for a “speedy resolution” to the crisis. However, the only speedy thing has been the deterioration of the health of cystic fibrosis sufferers while they wait for a resolution of the crisis.
More than 10,000 people in the UK live with cystic fibrosis, and it is thought that around 50% of CF patients could benefit from Orkambi; that is more than 5,000 people. Although that is a lot of people, in NHS terms it is a small cohort. And yet Orkambi is still not available to patients, despite being licensed for use in the UK since 2015.
The UK is currently a world leader in cystic fibrosis outcomes, but that is changing. People with cystic fibrosis are physically sicker than they would be if these medicines were available to them. NHS England continues to make offers to Vertex, including the largest ever financial commitment in its 70-year existence, but that was rejected. Since then, an even better offer has been made, but again Vertex has been unwilling to accept it.
I know that that is frustrating for patients and their families, who have waited years for access to these life-saving drugs. We are all frustrated on their behalf. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) Valley mentioned, in March it was reported in the news that nearly 8,000 packs of Orkambi had been destroyed because they were past their sell-by date. That would have particularly stung patients and their families. Those drugs were valued by Vertex at £104,000 per patient per year. With my limited maths skills, I reckon that means that more than £60 million of drugs were destroyed by Vertex—drugs that could have been given to patients.
It is an outrage that Vertex would destroy so many packs of a life-saving drug while in a cost dispute with NHS England. So many patients could have benefited from those drugs. It was spiteful of Vertex to watch those drugs go out of date so they would have to be destroyed. In the midst of all that, Vertex reported a 40% rise in its revenues, with net income doubling in the previous quarter. I am sure I am not alone in feeling shocked and angry at that.
By refusing to play fair with NHS England, Vertex is holding lives at ransom, and patients and their families are the ones left suffering. Therefore, I was not surprised by the feature on “Newsnight” last week about parents and families establishing a cystic fibrosis buyers’ club to buy the generic drug Lucaftor from Argentina. The stress and frustration that families face because of Vertex mean that they now feel they have no other option but to take matters into their own hands.