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'Fundamental misconceptions' in MP's report, says industry

Published on 07/04/05 at 03:40pm

The ABPI has broadly welcomed the recommendations of the Health Select Committee's investigation into the pharmaceutical industry but has singled out three misconceptions in the report.

Director general of the ABPI Richard Barker welcomed the report's calls for improved patient information leaflets on new medicines, better reporting of side-effects, and compulsory post-graduate training for prescribers.

Responding to the recommendations, Barker said: "We welcome the acknowledgement in the report that medicines contribute enormously to the health of the nation. Most importantly, we support stronger reporting of adverse events and side-effects from both doctors and patients."

In addition, Barker approved of the committee's appeal for a move towards public registers of funding of patient groups and financial benefits received by doctors, adding that "there should be no suspicion that patient groups act somehow on behalf of the industry".

But he warned of a number of 'fundamental misconceptions' in the report and questioned the committee's analysis of the growing use of medicines, emphasising that the UK had one of the slowest uptakes of new medicines in Europe.

He said that figures, disclosed from the ABPI's  Annual Review 2004, show that only 3% of UK drugs spending went on new medicines, leading Barker to comment "we have the lowest spend in Europe apart from the Netherlands".

Equally, Barker took issue with the committee's claim that the UK's consumption of drugs "is vast and increasing" stating that it remained at the foot of the European league in spending per head on medicines. He added that the spend had remained steady at 12% of the total NHS bill over the last five years.

Thirdly, he gave short shrift to the committee's conclusion that intensive marketing by the industry had encouraged inappropriate prescribing of drugs. Barker stressed that most doctors received only a handful of drug rep visits in a month, and the majority valued the clinical and product information provided.

Barker and the association believe that limiting the amount of information GPs receive about new medicines is a retrograde step and would hinder the NHS's ability to prevent disease and raise access to best quality treatment.

The health committee's recommendations have been long awaited by the industry and healthcare professionals. They have called for tougher regulation on the industry and a closer scrutiny on the risks of new drugs before they are prescribed.

It has also recommended an immediate review of the MHRA, which it says lacks "the discipline and leadership needed to protect patients' health needs".

Additionally, it has called for public inquiries whenever a drug is withdrawn on health grounds and responsibility for the industry to be shifted to the Department of Trade and Industry.

ABPI president Vincent Lawton, commenting on this last proposal, said: "This is a government decision but any department must encourage the R&D industry and protect the scientists from animal extremists. It must get the infrastructure right."

The MHRA has come under particular criticism from the report, especially its close relationship with the industry, and the committee believes it should be more independent of government and industry.

The regulator has undertaken recent changes to its make-up and practices, including introducing plans for a more open system of 'yellow card' warnings by which patients and GPs can alert it to adverse drug reactions.

The ABPI said any reform of the MHRA would have to be consistent with regulators worldwide, as licensing and safety systems operate on an international basis. 

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