The Free Radical Network is a service provided by MORPh, which allows primary care organisations to take advantage of commercial agreements with pharmaceutical companies. The overall aim is to provide access to high quality medicines at an affordable price.
Under current arrangements, prescriptions written by prescribers in any given NHS organisation are dispensed by pharmacy contractors. The contractors send prescriptions that have been filled to the Prescription Pricing Department (part of the NHS Business Services Authority), who then reimburse the pharmacy contractor and recharge the NHS organisation
The price paid by NHS organisations for medicines dispensed in primary care is based on the published list price of the prescribed medicine, less an allowance for discounts provided to dispensers. The list price is usually decided on a world-wide basis and, generally speaking, manufacturers are reluctant to change this. A further factor is that medicines are prone to parallel exporting between European countries (typically from the UK to Germany and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) which provide a real threat to the availability of medicines for UK patients.
Currently, some pharmaceutical companies are effectively reducing prices by offering retrospective rebates to primary care organisations. While lower prices are welcomed, the transaction costs are high (a report relating to the quantity of each medicine used by the NHS organisation is supplied to manufacturers in return for an agreed rebate, usually a fixed amount per pack dispensed), and there are concerns over the governance arrangements.
The Free Radical Network has been developed to allow the NHS to take advantage of lower prices in primary care, by using economies of scale and removing high costs of administration and management.