Should drug companies to talk directly to patients?
What should be the relationship between the drug companies and the public? Plans by the European Commission to allow pharmaceutical companies to give information on prescription drugs to the public is troubling for the future objective use and funding of medicines, warn medical students in a letter to this week's BMJ.
The students are representatives of Medsin, a student global health network, and Pharmaware, a UK campaign aiming to maximise ethical interactions between healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical companies.
Patients require high quality, unbiased and objective information, they say, yet these proposals may have some of the negative side effects of direct to consumer advertising. For instance, the profile of profitable branded drugs may be increased, which will increase spending on prescription medicines by patients and the NHS.
They believe that information is best provided by healthcare professionals who are trained to appraise and interpret the evidence on clinical and cost effectiveness, and they call on the European Commission to abandon its proposals and explore options for providing a more impartial and unprejudiced system of high quality peer reviewed information.
But in a second letter, Don Redding, Head of Policy at the Picker Institute Europe argues that the proposal can still be defeated.
Under pressure from campaign groups, including Picker Institute Europe, plans have already been significantly watered down, he says. For example, television and radio were dropped as channels for dissemination, while printed media became more tightly defined as health related publications.
At whatever stage it reappears, the proposal can be defeated if patient and professional groups make their views known to members of the European parliament and to member governments, both of whom will need to approve the measures before they become law, he concludes.