Tuesday, November 14, 2006

White House Increasing Pressure on NHS

First it was the drug companies themselves, now it is the turn of the White House. According to The Guardian, the US deputy health secretary, Alex Azar, is pushing the government to relax regulations regarding new drugs. Azar claims that NICE is stifling 'innovation'. The reality is, of course, that it is actually stifling profits for the drug companies. His most disturbing admission surrounds the issue of marketing.

For many years now, the major drug companies have been bombarding doctors with marketing material, or propaganda, to encourage them to prescribe their drugs. In 2003, drug companies spent $7 billion on marketing direct to doctors. Imagine how much they would spend by advertising direct to patients. The ramifications of such a move would be disastrous. Politicians have often posed as 'modernisers' when all this really means is cutting regulations and opening up industry to the 'market'. By opening up to the market, politicians believe they can sell us the ideal of 'choice'. The reality is very different. 'Choice' is an illusion. After all, what is the value of 'choice' if we cannot make an informed decision based on facts. The myth of 'choice' is all around us, on every street in every town. You cannot make free, independent choices, you rely on the marketeers to guide your 'choice' for you. And amongst the armory of the marketeer, their strongest weapon is the ability to hide facts. This is something that the drugs companies have excelled at in recent years. Many drug companies fast-track their research just so they can get their drugs on the market and continue to make their vast profits. Vast profits they say they need for 'innovation', yet they spend huge amounts on marketing.

The joke is that, with medication, patients cannot make informed choices and they certainly won't be able to do so with a $7 billion advertising campaign targeting them. They will never have all the information and all the facts to be able to make informed decisions about the medication they will be taking. While NICE has had its problems, it is an effective way of creating a barrier between the propaganda that emanates from the drug companies and the ill informed patient. If this barrier was taken away, we would be left with drugs on the market that aren't properly tested and we could face an even more serious situation than the TGN1412 scandal.