The European Pharmaceutical Forum has recently published its first progress report.

One of the key issues that it has been considering is how best to ensure that patients have access to good quality information about diseases and medicines.

There is much talk about improving the quality and availability of information, supplementing the important work of healthcare professionals, working within healthcare environments to support the dissemination of accessible information, enabling, effective, sustainable, quality, harmonisation, comprehensive, partnerships, tools, frameworks, buzzword, buzzword, bingo.

Amongst all that you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a worthy initiative aimed at making life easier and better for people with health problems.

Call me cynical, but I don’t believe it. There are deeper, underlying motives.

Consider that the whole purpose of the Pharmaceutical Forum is “to examine the competitiveness of the European-based pharmaceutical industry and related public health issues” and that one of the first things they report is that “the European pharmaceutical industry is… facing a number of serious challenges and is losing ground vis-Ă -vis its global competitors”.

How will providing information to patients help the poor, flagging pharmaceuticals? Is it, perchance, that the forum expects the provision of information to result in increased sales? And am I right or wrong in thinking that the provision of information for the purpose of increasing sales is more usually referred to as advertising?

Consider that the “partners” in creating this accessible information will almost certainly include the manufacturers and sellers of medicines.

There will inevitably be a conflict of interest there, and how likely do you suppose it is that the pharmaceutical industry – innocently benign and crusading for justice and the good of fellow men, right? – will be completely objective in producing information designed to help patients decide what, if any, medicine they need? How keen do you think they might be to fund and sponsor information programmes? How much influence do you suppose they will be able to buy over the content of the information programme if they are agreeing to provide huge amounts of funding?

These questions by the way are rhetorical. Of course this initiative is about moving towards direct advertising, under the guise of “objective, quality-assured information”. It’s not about helping patients, it’s about selling more European-made drugs.

Advertising of drugs and medicines by manufactures directly to patients is currently banned in the EU. Such advertising is not banned everywhere in the world, notably in the USA, and the USA pharmaceuticals (those “global competitors”) are doing better than their EU counterparts, in some measure because of the drug-peddling they are allowed to do.

Osborne Clarke (a European firm of solicitors) have the same opinion, and according to them there is a $4.1 billion market in the USA for direct-to-consumer drug marketing.

Anyone still think this initiative is designed to help the little people?

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