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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Ministers order drug ad crackdown
About 650m prescriptions are written by GPs each year
Pharmaceutical industry advertising is to be policed following concerns raised by MPs, the government says.

But ministers stopped short of a fundamental overhaul of the drugs regulator after April's Health Select Committee questioned its independence.

MPs said drugs were being prescribed before the side-effects were known and marketing was getting more influential.

The government said the measures would protect patients, but campaigners described it as a missed opportunity.

The Department of Health announced that the UK drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, should vet all adverts for new products.

It has also called for improved self-regulation, calling for the industry to draw up a code of conduct following concerns companies were having to much influence through marketing techniques.

The MPs also wanted to see reform of the MHRA to make it more independent of the 7bn-a-year industry.

The government has shirked the chance to tackle the current situation where the MHRA straddles both the interests of the public and industry
Dr Ike Icheanacho, editor of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin

But the government has rejected MPs suggestions to beef up the MHRA inspection and regulation duties and separate the responsibility for looking after patients and industry interests.

One proposal MPs put forward, but was rejected, was to introduce new powers allowing the MHRA to issue restrictions on drug use when a product was already on the market, rather than just at the licensing stage as it does now.

The government said current powers were sufficient and added GPs were being encouraged to use a yellow card system to "flag up" any side-effects which they believe medicines may cause.


Health Minister Jane Kennedy said the pharmaceutical industry was of enormous importance - it is the third most profitable market after tourism and finance - to Britain.

"It is in all of our interests that the industry maintains its currently strong position.

"The acceptance of many of the committee's recommendations will continue to ensure a balanced relationship with the industry."

Dr Richard Barker, director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said he recognised action needed to be taken in some areas.

But added: "It is essential that they are implemented in such a way that they do not delay - or, worse still, deny - patients' access to the benefits of modern, innovative medicines."

Campaigners said the government had missed an opportunity to reform the industry.

Dr Ike Icheanacho, editor of the Which? publication Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, said: "This response does nothing to tackle fundamental weaknesses at the heart of the medicines regulatory system."

"At a time when increased choice in medicines and self-care is an integral part of government health policy, there must be a truly independent medicines regulator with an unambiguous remit to protect public health.

"As it stands the government has shirked the chance to tackle the current situation where the MHRA straddles both the interests of the public and industry."

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