Oral contraceptives among top 10 most important medicines to be introduced in NHS history, say experts

Woman holding card of contraceptive pills

Oral contraceptives, tamoxifen and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine are three of the ten most important and impactful medicines to be introduced to the NHS during its history, according to a report funded by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

The report, which aims to celebrate the contribution of medicines and vaccines to the NHS as it turns 70, collates interviews with leading health experts, including pharmacists, clinicians, scientists and historians to assess the impact of medicines based on health and economic outcomes.

The top ten medicines were selected on the basis of the frequency that they were cited by the interviewees and the “strength of feeling” about the magnitude of their positive impact in the NHS.

Also on the shortlist, which was chosen from a longer list of 37 medicines, was chlorpromazine — launched in 1953 — the first antipsychotic. This is still included in the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines.

The polio vaccine, which was responsible for eradicating polio in the UK within 11 years of its introduction and is predicted to have saved 10,000 lives in the UK between 1958 and 2018, was also on the list, along with HIV/AIDs antiretrovirals, beta blockers, beta2 agonists, second to fourth generation penicillins, and immunosuppressants.

“The milestone of the NHS turning 70 provides an opportunity for us to consider the impact of medicines to the success of the NHS,” said report author Paula Lorgelly. 

“As well as identifying a short list of influential and often overlooked medicines, we also identified factors that aided their impact. These included the value of innovation, complementarity and scientific spillovers, substitution, the evidence base, aiding understanding, active collaboration and supportive health policy. 

“These factors are important to consider to ensure new and future medicine developments continue to deliver impact to the NHS.”


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2018, Vol 301, No 7916;301(7916):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205320

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