One of Labour's manifesto commitments is to introduce a law to oblige pharma firms to publish clinical trial data. If a drug is to be marketed in the UK, details of its results and side effects will need to be available to patients, probably on a recognised website.
A case of jumping on a bandwagon that's already moving?
Funnily enough, that's exactly how one senior healthcare PRO describes the pledge. Larger pharma firms, such as Eli Lilly, have already started to put something similar in place. But there is concern, even from pharma PROs, that the industry has perhaps dragged its heels on the issue.
Would new legislation present something of a comms challenge?
The task of explaining and contextualising trials information seems likely to necessitate an increased comms effort, but some PROs say they are hopeful that better transparency will strengthen relationships between healthcare journalists and pharma companies.
So is there surprise at Labour's move?
The Health Select Committee's recent report suggested that greater transparency in the pharma industry was an issue for the public. And there would have been little point investing so much time and money into that process without acting on one of its key recommendations. Also, the Department of Health has already spoken of its desire to increase openness (PRWeek, 19 November 2004). Healthcare PROs see greater transparency as inevitable - although there are worries.
First, legislation seems a heavy-handed option to many. Second, giving the public unfettered access to clinical trial data may create consumer panic as people draw the wrong conclusions from published results.
What if Labour loses the election? How do opposition parties see the issue?
The Conservatives have issued no such pledge. However, the Liberal Democrats insist that they support Labour's stance, despite leaving it out of its own manifesto.