press that the claim against RB concerns their manufacturing of Gaviscon, though the Government will not confirm the purpose of the action. " />

NHS Launches Legal Action Against Makers of Gaviscon

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However, it is well known that in October 2010, RB admitted an abuse of its dominant position in the supply of heartburn remedies to the NHS and agreed to pay a fine of £10.2 million to the Office of Fair Trading.  This fine was made because "Gaviscon Original Liquid", was removed from a list of products available on prescription to NHS patients just as its patent expired, and was replaced by a newer version, which was still patent protected. 

When a patent expires on a medicine, it means the medicine can be manufactured by anybody, often at far lower prices than the manufacturer who invented that medicine will charge.  Removing Gaviscon Original from GP's lists meant that all heartburn remedies prescribed by your GP had to be purchased from Reckitt Benckiser, rather than a cheaper version manufactured by a range of manufacturers.

There is some history of such actions by the Government against drug companies in these circumstances.  In 2008, there was a prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office of five companies alleged to have deprived the NHS of £150 million in a price fixing cartel involving warfarin and penicillin based antibiotics, although that collapsed.  Nonetheless, the NHS were able to recover significant sums in out of court settlements of civil actions against the companies without admission of liability.
It is very interesting to see that the Government use the law to keep medicine affordable for NHS users in these circumstances.

Information drawn from an original article published in the British Medical Journal.

Caron Heyes

Senior solicitor - Clinical Negligence team 

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