Jeremy Corbyn used his conference speech today to announce that Labour in government would put “public health before private profit” with the launch of a ‘Medicines for the Many’ programme.
He revealed party plans to force down prices of life-saving drugs by scrapping the “system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives” and setting up a “publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer” that would supply medicines to the NHS at affordable rates.
“We will redesign the system to serve public health not private wealth using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines,” the Labour leader told conference.
“We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding, then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And we will create a new, publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS – saving our health service money, and saving lives.”
In the short term, Labour intends to secure affordable generic versions of patented medicines, boost the transparency of medicine prices and research and development costs, and more widely resist increases in “corporate control over medicine”.
In the longer run, towards the end of a first parliamentary term, the party in power would create a publicly owned pharmaceutical company that would see profits go back into improve facilities and health outcomes rather than go into the pockets of shareholders.
Labour has said that the proposal is similar to schemes seen in the Netherlands, where Dutch pharmacies have increasingly bypassed drug company products and instead made medicines themselves.
Corbyn raised a specific case in his speech of an NHS patient currently without access to a potentially life-changing medicine. He said: “Yesterday I met Luis Walker, a nine-year-old boy who is living with cystic fibrosis. Every day he needs at least four hours of treatment and is often in hospital, keeping him from school and his friends.
“Luis’s life could be very different with the aid of a medicine called Orkambi. But Luis is denied the medicine he needs because its manufacturer refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price.
“Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses like cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C, and breast cancer, are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives.”
The Labour leader delivered his keynote speech a day earlier than scheduled after the Supreme Court ruled that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful, and the Speaker confirmed that the Commons would resume business at 11.30am on Wednesday.
He reiterated in his speech that Labour would only back an early election after the Prime Minister had requested an Article 50 extension. Corbyn’s spokesperson later confirmed that the party will be seeking to “hold to account” Geoffrey Cox, who advised the government that the lengthy prorogation would be “lawful and within the constitution”.
It is expected that a humble address will be used by MPs in parliament this week to force the publication of the Attorney General’s full legal advice. Cabinet minutes regarding the advice have already been leaked.