Headlines: June 4th, 2009

The leading newspaper for family doctors says that the Government wants to increase the amount of information that drug companies are allowed to give patients about prescription medicines. The report in ‘Pulse’ says ministers have responded positively to European Commission proposals to extend the communication permitted between companies and patients. Currently it is restricted to patient safety leaflets.

Some general practitioners are concerned that the proposed changes to the regulations would make it harder for them to provide neutral information and the editor of ‘Pulse’, Richard Hoey, said the line between information and promotion was ‘desperately fine’.

The report says that although the ban on advertising of medicines direct to the consumer would stay, the Government has told European policymakers it favours relaxing the rules. The Commission revealed its plans in December and a report by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, has begun a consultation into the plans. In a report it says the Government wants a system, which fits with the established UK system of self-regulation for medicines advertising.

The Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was important to remember the change would not mean direct-to-consumer advertising. A spokesman said: “This is about being able to provide factual information to patients when we are asked to provide it. It is pull from patients and not push from industry.”

Dr Des Spence, the Glasgow GP who runs the No Free Lunch UK campaign against undue influence by drug companies, condemned the plans. “I feel very strongly this would result in disproportionate access to the public. There is a lot of opportunity for disease mongering, promoting illness and creating a disproportionate fear about health,” he said.