It's yet another warning on the National Health Service (NHS). This time, however, it comes from the pharmaceutical companies.

The world's biggest drug firms have threatened to quit the UK unless the government allocates an additional £20bn a year to the NHS.

Lisa Anson, who takes over as president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) today (27 April), has told The Times that the funding issues faced by the NHS have affected Britain's £30bn life sciences sector - and that the companies may reconsider their work in Britain.

Anson says that without higher health spending, companies will delay the launch of new medicines in the UK as they are unlikely to be approved.

Furthermore, these companies will not be able to launch clinical trials for new drugs as they will be unable to evaluate them against existing best treatments.

Noting that the election called by Prime Minister Theresa May comes at a "critical juncture", Anson told the newspaper that the drug companies would be "happy to discuss" tax rises to pay for more NHS spending.

She warned that big companies were thinking again about Britain, telling the newspaper: "We hear those discussions in global boardrooms in life sciences companies."

Anson, who is the head of AstraZeneca UK, warned that if politicians failed to spend more on health, Britain risked becoming "a desert for healthcare innovation".

The UK's health spend currently stands at 9.9% of GDP. The ABPI is asking that this figure be raised to 11.3%, which is the average of the G7 countries.

Such a hike would effectively mean there would be an additional £20.8bn in the NHS coffers, on top of the £120bn already allocated to the NHS per year.

Drug companies a major force in the UK

The Times says that this is the first time that the ABPI, which groups global pharma such as Novartis, Pfizer, GSK and AstraZeneca, has spelled out specific requests for the general election campaign.

The newspaper reports that ministers have said that medical research is a key driver of economic growth, which makes the demands by the sector "harder to ignore" than requests from health unions.

It notes that the pharma sector in the UK employs 140,000 people directly and that each worker adds £104,000 to the economy - twice the UK average.

Anson said: "If we are ambitious to have the life sciences sector, which is one of the key sectors of the UK economy, [as] world class then our aspiration should be to have a world-class NHS with world-class outcomes for patients.

"Recent rationing signals are warning signs that we are eroding the industrial strategy, the research environment and access to new medicines by eroding the competitiveness of a key sector for a short-term affordability issue.

She added that research "drains away to many other countries in the world that would love to have the life sciences sector that we have in the UK".

The Times was also quick to point out that only on Wednesday (26 April), the UK's biggest pharma company, GSK, announced a hike in first-quarter profits.

Tory MPs dismiss request

The latest demand, however, has been dismissed by some Tory MPs, who consider the pharma companies' demands to be "special pleading".

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said: "Life sciences development will depend much more on the regulatory framework [than NHS spending], If people think they will get approval in this country under a sensible regulatory regime then the UK will remain a very important place for life sciences."

A Conservative spokesman told The Times: "We can only continue to invest in our NHS, and maintain our world-leading position in life sciences, with strong and stable economic leadership - and, crucially, both depend on negotiating the good Brexit deal only [Prime Minister] Theresa May can achieve."

Not an unreasonable request

Prime Minister David Cameron has earmarked 180 million pounds to boost Britain's 50 billion pound turnover life sciences industry.
The life sciences sector in the UK is concerned over NHS funding flickr/Images_of_Money

Nuffield Trust think tank's John Appleby said that an additional £20bn a year was not unreasonable: "The amount of extra NHS funding the ABPI are calling for is more or less in line with the long-term average the health service has historically received, i.e. about 4% extra in real terms each year.

"In the medium term at least, that is probably what the NHS needs to receive."

The Liberal Democrat's health spokesman, Norman Lamb, agreed, saying: "It's deemed appropriate by the Conservatives to commit to spending 2% of GDP on defence yet they seem supremely relaxed about us spending less than other countries on health.