EU countries set to block pharma ‘ads plan’

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Pharmacists expect EU countries to scupper the European Commission’s plans to change the rules on how drug companies communicate with patients. In an interview with EURACTIV, John Chave, secretary-general of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU), said most countries view the proposal, which is a key element of the Commission’s pharmaceutical package, as unnecessary.

The proposal would allow companies to provide information to patients about prescription medicines on the Internet and in health-related publications. However, TV and radio are excluded from the plan, which was published last December (EURACTIV 11/12/08). 

Critics have branded the move “advertising in disguise,” but Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen has consistently backed the change, saying it would empower consumers by providing them with quality information. 

However, the debate appears to have been enough to turn member states off tackling such a complex issue at a time when the cost of medicines and counterfeit drugs are of immediate concern. 

“Most countries really do not see the need for it, and despite the proposed safeguards in the text, it is still perceived as being too close to the agenda of the pharmaceutical industry, which, to be frank, has a credibility problem on information issues,” Chave said. 

He said he expected the plan to be “kicked out” by health ministers from across Europe, as there are bigger issues that must be dealt with in the short-term. 

For pharmacists, there are concerns that their profit margins will be targeted as governments seek to slash their medicine bills. Chave said health ministers are comparing notes on looking for new ways to control health spending, and the professional status of pharmacists may be at risk if lesser-qualified workers are recruited to do work currently done by pharmacists. 

“I think we can see some moves to squeeze pharmacists and wholesalers. And I think we cannot rule out more margin squeezes in the coming years, even when the credit crunch is over. We are living through an extraordinarily dynamic period in Europe. New opportunities are opening up at the same time that old certainties about regulation and the economic position of pharmacists are beginning to weaken,” he said. 

Chave stressed that pharmacists are willing to play a central role in responding to the major health challenges facing Europe, including caring for an ageing society, tackling obesity, and improving the safe and rational use of medicines. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.

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