- The Government is to curb the ability of Britain's drug companies to run direct mail campaigns targeting individual patients.
Ministers believe the pharmaceutical industry is planning a direct marketing blitz aimed at persuading patients to ask their doctors to put them on the latest "wonder cures".
A total ban on DM campaigns by drugs firms is thought unlikely because Tony Blair has ordered the ministers to avoid actions which provoke allegations that Labour is introducing a "nanny state". But ministers want severe restrictions on the industry, either through legislation or a watertight voluntary code of practice.
Such a code might include compulsory "disclaimers" about the power of new drugs and a warning that patients should be guided by the advice of their doctors.
"With advances in medicine, this is going to be a very real problem" said a Government source. "We are very worried that vulnerable people will be targeted and pressured into demanding the latest products. For example, elderly people could be sent information about Alzheimer's disease."
Although the ministers say their primary aim is to protect patients, they are also determined to reduce the escalating NHS drugs budget. Licences for new products may be restricted to those which are cost effective.
The crackdown is the latest evidence of the Government's plans to impose greater regulation over direct marketing. Ministers have already signalled their support for curbs on "cold calling" to private homes and the sending of unsolicited faxes, as they implement a European Union directive due to take effect in October (Campaign, 15 May).