Making the right choice in health information

June 2009

A large alliance of European health stakeholders welcome Health Ministers’ critical conclusions on the proposed Directive “Information to the general public on medicinal products subject to medical prescription”

Last Thursday in Brussels, a wide range of organisations representing key healthcare stakeholders – patient groups, family and consumer bodies, social security systems, and health professionals – met to discuss the European Commission’s proposed Directive “Information to the general public on medicinal products subject to medical prescription”. The participants highlighted the need for relevant health information, as a fundamental part of healthcare, centred on patient and consumer needs as well as public health priorities, and provided by reliable independent sources.

The participants welcomed the results of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council meeting (8-9 June 2009) where Health Ministers denounced the misguided approach contained in the European Commission proposals. Under the guise of patient “information”, these proposals would, in reality, lead to the relaxation of the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines in Europe, risking citizens’ safety and the sustainability of national healthcare systems.

Anne-Sophie Parent from AGE-the European Older People’s Platform (AGE) said:

“According to evidence gathered from the US [where DTCA is allowed] and from direct-to-doctors advertising in Europe, the pharmaceutical industry, due to unavoidable conflicts of interest, should not be allowed to communicate directly with the public about the medicines it produces beyond the boundaries that are currently set in the law.”

Meeting participants called upon the European Commission to work on a new and more ambitious strategy, truly recognising the legitimacy of patients and their family circle, patients’ organisations, consumers, users, and their organisations as real partners on the process.

They propose key elements to be addressed, such as:

  • to improve the readability of the packaging and the patient information leaflet (better enforcement of article 59 of Directive 2001/83/EC modified by Directive 2004/27/CE);
  • to optimize communication between patients and health professionals;
  • to encourage national health authorities to become proactive and more transparent providers of information on the efficacy and safety of medicines;
  • to develop and sustain existing sources of comparative information that helps patients to weigh up the pros and cons of all existing treatments in order to participate in informed treatment choices.

Teresa Alves from Health Action International (HAI) Europe added:

“Rather than weakening the legislation by introducing changes to articles 86 and 88 of Directive 2001/83/EC, the Commission should be striving to fully implement and strengthen the European regulation on pharmaceutical promotion.”

To ensure that EU medicines’ policy upholds public health, the alliance also stressed the need for a transfer of competence on pharmaceuticals from the European Commission Directorate General Enterprise and Industry to a Directorate General whose focus is Health.

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