This article is written in response to one published on the BBC Website.
Mr. Hugh Pym, the Health Editor of the BBC, writes about how the NHS is calling for an export ban on British medicinal products. The rationale for such as ban is solid, as long as wholesalers act irresponsibly and unethically. They could do so by engaging in arbitrage, as Mr. Pym pointed out. The reality is that there are valid health, economic and other reasons to satisfy both domestic and foreign demand. The key is to work closely with doctors and strike deals that allow wholesalers to generate greater sales and acquire adequate supply.
The NHS is a public institution that puts its patients first. The doctors, nurses, psychologists/psychiatrists and all the other health workers would be right to show concern about the possibility of medicinal shortages. Patients who are prescribed treatments are in need of medicine. The government is accountable to its people and should act in their best interest. Big pharmaceutical business and medicinal wholesalers can, unfortunately, solely represent their owners.
If businesses were to act ethically and in line with corporate social responsibility, they would not just seek the biggest prices but will also try to act locally in favour of their closest customers. In business terms, it also makes sense to sell to British hospitals and pharmacies, even in the wake of a weakening pound. Closer geographical distances will lower distribution costs, thus making for bigger margins. Prices may also respond to the lower British Pound value; thus, removing the incentive of selling abroad. Finally, the Pound could always rebound, which makes local sales the more lucrative prospect.
Of course, medicine is about more than just money. It saves lives and should save all lives that need it. That is to say, British patients are the only potential victims of unethical pharma-business practices. If wholesalers only sell to the highest bidder, then the ill in Less Developed Countries will also suffer. The United Kingdom is among the highest medicinal exporters in the world, making for many casualties if wholesalers act unethically.
The government is accountable to all its people, and not just a small business elite. They should pass laws and policies in favour of the public good. If wholesalers abandon British patients, then the government should ban medicinal exports. This will create a check on poor business practices. Wholesalers should also act with locals in mind, as recent history shows that a deficit in ethics leads to lower profits, legal issues and insolvency.
One needs to look no further than the Enron Scandal; the related demise of Arthur Anderson, in the early 2000s, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, in the Global Financial Crisis. These economic and financial scandals sent shock waves throughout the business world. Enron and Arthur Anderson both defrauded its stakeholders, with the former filing bankruptcy. Arthur Anderson was also one of the then big five accounting firms in the world. Its fall from grace shows how the full extent of unethical business implications. If greed is good and dirty business is the norm, then why did Enron, Arthur Anderson and Lehman Brothers/Northern Rock fail? The answer is because lacking ethics is not good business practice at all.
If wholesalers want big returns, they should understand the intrinsic links between profit and ethics. If wholesalers continue to sell to local consumers, they could gain more in consumer loyalty and end up building a bigger brand. How coincidental is it that local actors end up gaining more global influence than others? UK businesses can also coordinate with doctors to determine demand. Deals can be struck to avoid over-production and losses, and, as long as wholesalers sell at a profit margin, it would make business sense to strike those deals.
All in all, the catastrophic outcome of medicinal shortages needs to be avoided at all costs. To sell medicine on an auction basis is unethical and should be avoided. It also does not make sense in economic terms. History shows that greed is not good, does not go unnoticed and could be the cause of a firm’s ultimate demise. The bigger implications of an export ban are the call for a better demand tracking system, through the use of market research, where domestic and foreign demand could be met.