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All things Pharma


The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said recently that the Health Select Committee’s report rightly acknowledges the importance of the UK pharmaceutical industry in the development of new medicines and the fact that its discoveries “have improved many people’s quality of life, reduced the need for surgical intervention and the length of time spent in hospital and saved many lives.” Dr Richard Barker, Director-General of the ABPI, said: “It is critically important to patients, the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry that the public have trust in and benefit from advances in medicines. To this end the committee’s report puts forward a number of constructive proposals to increase public accountability and transparency among all those involved in decisions about health care.” The industry wholeheartedly supports proposals for improved patient information about medicines and better reporting of side-effects by both patients and doctors. The ABPI agrees with moves towards public registers of funding of patient groups and of financial benefits received by doctors. It warmly welcomes the committee’s proposals for mandatory post-graduate training for all prescribers about medicines and how they can best be used. But there were a number of fundamental misconceptions within the Committee’s report that called into question other recommendations that were intended to restrict doctors’ freedom to prescribe and companies’ ability to provide information to the medical profession. In particular, the report claims that:

  • “Our consumption of drugs is vast and increasing.” In fact, the UK remains bottom of the European league in spending per head on medicines, and this remains steady at 12 per cent of the total NHS bill.
  • “. . . prescribing explosion often seen in the months following a product launch.” In fact, the UK has among the lowest usages of new medicines across Europe during their first five years on the market.
  • “Intensive marketing . . . encourages inappropriate prescribing.” In fact, most doctors receive only a handful of representative visits in a month. The majority say they value the clinical and product information provided.

Hence, artificially limiting the ability of doctors to receive information about medicines and restricting further their ability to prescribe medicines already licensed for use – as proposed in the report – would be a step backwards in the National Health Service’s bid to prevent disease and raise access to best quality treatment. The industry’s own Code of Practice covering the promotion of medicines to health professionals is also currently under review and will take into account the conclusions of the Select Committee. On research priorities, the industry is keen to work with Government to ensure the medicines it develops reflect the needs of the NHS and patients. Nearly half of all medicines developed in the past ten years match the NHS priorities of cancer, heart disease, mental health and the needs of the elderly. All medicines carry both a potential benefit and a risk, and it is the role of regulatory authorities to ensure a proper balance. The Committee’s proposals regarding reform of the MHRA need to take account of the fact that such licensing and safety systems operate on an international basis, and any changes would have to be consistent with those around the globe. Such systems are currently being re-examined in the light of recent public debate on risk-benefit issues involving medicines. “The Committee has rightly recognised the pharmaceutical industry in the UK as world-class. Clearly there is more that can be done to ensure future success. That can only be achieved by all those involved in healthcare sharing knowledge and improving communication and partnership for the benefit of patients,” said Vincent Lawton, the ABPI’s President.

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