The Impact of New Medicines in the NHS: 70 Years of Innovation

This year marks the 70th birthday of the NHS. Our latest Consulting Report describes the most important new medicines as identified by experts.

For 70 years, the NHS has provided coverage for a range of approved medical and pharmaceutical interventions. Over this period, many new medicines have been developed in the UK and overseas, to which the NHS has provided patients access. But which of these new medicines have had the greatest impact?

Our new Consulting Report describes work funded by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) to try and answer this question. The report demonstrates the contribution and impact of medicines to the health economy in the UK throughout the 70-year history of the NHS. Through qualitative interviews with experts we identified a shortlist of the most important medicines to have been brought to market, and from a review of the literature and evidence base we attempt to quantify the benefits of these key medicines in terms of health and economic outcomes.

Our interviews with experts identified a shortlist of ten important new medicines introduced in the NHS in the last 70 years, which were selected from a longer list of 37 on the basis of the qualitative evidence.

The ten medicines are:

  • Chlorpromazine
  • Polio vaccine
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Second to fourth generation penicillins
  • Beta blockers
  • Beta2 agonists
  • Tamoxifen
  • Immunosuppressants
  • HIV/AIDS antiretrovirals
  • MMR vaccine

We identified a variety of benefits encompassing improvement in clinical outcomes, survival benefits, quality of life improvement, greater health service efficiency, and wider societal impacts.

But the question of which medicines have had the greatest impact is not an easy one to answer. The level of quantification of the benefits is variable, meaning that it is difficult to definitively aggregate their value.

We used the qualitative interviews to identify factors that have played an important role in determining the impact of new medicines. Seven themes arose from the interviews relating to i) the value of innovation, ii) complementarity and spillovers, iii) substitution, iv) policy, v) evidence, vi) understanding, and vii) collaboration. These themes highlight a variety of ways in which policymakers can facilitate positive impact from new medicines. Their role should be considered in the use of medicines in the NHS over the next 70 years and for new medicines currently in the development pipeline.

Download the full report here.

Download the press release from the ABPI here.



Sampson, C., O’Neill, P. & Lorgelly, P. 2018. The Impact of New Medicines in the NHS: 70 Years of Innovation. OHE Consulting Report, London: Office of Health Economics.

Related research

Davies, S.C. 2017. Ten Years of the NIHR: Achievements and Challenges for the Next Decade. OHE Monograph, London: Office of Health Economics. RePEc

Hicks, N. 2017. Delivering an Outcomes-based NHS: Creating the Right Conditions. OHE Seminar Briefing, London: Office of Health Economics. RePEc

O’Neill, P., Mestre-Ferrandiz, J., Puig-Peiro, R. and Sussex, J. 2013. Projecting Expenditure on Medicines in the UK NHS. PharmacoEconomics 31(10), 933-957. DOI | RePEc

Posted in Health Statistics, Innovation, OHE Consulting | Tagged Consulting Reports