PROs relieved at Government reply to Select Committee

PR consultants have greeted last week's Government response to the Health Select Committee report on The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry with a cautious sigh of relief.

PROs feared the Government might recommend tighter restrictions on the promotion of drugs, in particular disease-awareness campaigns, in its response to the MPs' high-profile report.

A main Government recommendation is that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should vet all adverts and marketing material for new products for the accuracy of their claims pre-launch.

But the MHRA already has the power to carry out such vetting, and all those consulted by PRWeek said they thought little tightening of the regulatory environment - and any effect on their own day-to-day activities - was in the offing for PROs.

The CIPR's health and medical group said it was 'delighted' and 'encouraged'.

Chairman Justin Wilkes, said: 'Health PROs can continue doing what they have always done in a responsible manner as long as they follow the existing guidelines set down by the relevant bodies.'

Medicom Group MD Martin Ellis told PRWeek: 'At first glance one might think it's business as usual. But the reality is that government and other bodies will continue to look very critically at the pharma industry and its partners.'

He cautioned: 'Healthcare PR people must not sit back and go "phew" - I think this Government will continue to look ever more closely at the way the pharma industry operates.'

Ogilvy Healthworld European president Margot James, who gave evidence to the inquiry earlier this year, reflected: 'The inquiry has forced all companies to look at their practices - beforehand the good companies already did this, but laggards did what they liked, which theoretically gave them an unfair advantage. The Select Committee did a good job and aired many issues that needed to be aired.'

The ABPI gave a 'broad welcome' to the Government's response, while the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) said the main upshot of the report as far as PROs were concerned was merely its emphasis on the importance of transparency.

It said: 'In light of this the HCA is actively planning the production of best practice guidelines on working with third parties, including patient groups.'

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