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Asda (Walmart) to sell 'not-for-profit' cancer drugs, govt fund next April
  21 May 2010
The UK supermarket chain Asda says that it will sell all privately-prescribed cancer treatments at cost price, potentially saving thousands of pounds for sufferers.
The company, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart, says it is responding to the "three-pronged challenge" facing patients, the first being that a number of treatments have not been deemed to be cost-effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Secondly, Asda refers to the problem of the 'post code lottery"; the latter has led to a situation where the annual spend per cancer patient across the 152 primary care trusts in England can vary by as much as 286% and determines the treatment people are eligible for on the National Health Service.
Thirdly, Asda says that its research compared the price of seven of the most common privately- prescribed cancer drugs available at the main high street pharmacies in the UK. This revealed mark-ups of up to 76%. The supermarket claims that Superdrug was found to offer the highest prices on four out of the seven drugs compared and marked up all seven by 50% over cost price. Prices at Lloyds Pharmacy and Tesco were consistently marked up by 20%, while at Boots, all seven drugs were marked up by either 50% or 27.5%.
Asda went on to say its research showed that 63% of people are unaware private prescription prices vary between pharmacies, and a "staggering 92%" have never compared the prices. The company went on to give examples, noting that AstraZeneca's lung cancer drug Iressa (gefitinib) is now available for 2,167.71 compared to 2,601.25 at Lloyds, 3,251.57 at Boots and 3,253.56 at Superdrug.
The supermarket added that it is working with suppliers to negotiate further discounts, with any savings passed directly on to customers as soon as they are available. John Evans, superintendent pharmacist at Asda, said that many people have had to spend their savings or re-mortgage to pay for essential drugs. Noting that "it's a small step in the right direction," he added that "we are the first retailer to recognise this injustice and to do something about it and we are calling on other retailers to follow our lead".
Tesco and Sainsbury's have responded quickly, saying they will match Asda's price, as has Superdrug. However, another major supermarket, Morrisons, told the Wall Street Journal said it has been retailing cancer drugs at cost price for two years already and therefore does "not need to engage in a price war".
Govt cancer fund to launch next April
The Asda announcement came just as Andrew Lansley, the new health secretary, confirmed that the coalition government will set up a 200 million Cancer Drug Fund, which will operate from April 2011 to improve access to treatments.
Mike Hobday, head of campaigns and policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said "Asda's commitment is good news for people who can afford to buy cancer drugs privately but for the majority of cancer patients this simply isn't an option". He added that the government's fund "may go some way to ensuring fairer access to cancer treatments but wider reform is also needed to enable all patients to get the drugs their doctor recommends".
It has been reported that some 16,000 patients have been forced to pay for their own cancer drugs, though a spokeswoman for Asda told PharmaTimes that she could not confirm any figures.
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