Healthcare: MPs propose clampdown on promotion of new drugs

Tighter controls on the promotion of new drugs should be introduced until more is known of their potential side effects, MPs said on Tuesday in their hotly anticipated report on 'The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry.'

The all-party Commons Health Select Committee (HSC) reported that society had become 'over-medicalised', believing that every problem requires medical treatment, and lamented drugs firms' increased spending on marketing.

HSC chairman David Hinchliffe told PRWeek on Tuesday: 'We would like to see the (pharma) industry focus its efforts more on research and less on marketing.'

The MPs' report called for a 'fundamental' independent review of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which it said had been too close to both drugs firms and government.

The drugs industry was heavily criticised for promoting the wider use of medications to boost profits.

'The aggressive promotion of medicines shortly after launch, the sheer volume of information that is received by prescribers and the "promotional hospitality masquerading as education" all contribute to the inappropriate prescription of medicines,' the MPs said.

The Committee said some GPs were too easily swayed by firms' PR tactics and fail to properly evaluate the drugs they prescribe.

They recommended that restrictions be brought in to limit the ability of junior doctors to prescribe drugs.

Doctors were, they said, 'deluged' with promotional messages following the launch of a new drug. They recommended that limits be set on the 'quantity of material prescribers receive, particularly in the first six months after launch'.

'Less experienced and non-specialist doctors are ill-equipped to cope effectively with promotional material,' they said, adding that 'stricter controls are needed in respect of drug company reps' promotion of their products to junior doctors and to nurses or pharmacists with new prescribing powers'.

They also concluded that the Department of Health should no longer be the 'sponsor' department for the drugs industry. Instead the Department of Trade and Industry should take responsibility.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said it 'welcomed a number of constructive proposals' from the MPs but claimed their report also contained 'fundamental misconceptions' in certain areas.

In response to the MPs' claim that 'intensive marketing... encourages inappropriate prescribing' the ABPI said 'most doctors receive only a handful of rep visits a month. The majority say they value the clinical and product information provided'.

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