The Government is set to allow Britain’s pharmaceutical companies
to advertise more of their products in a move that could herald an
American-style explosion of drugs advertising.
Although ministers are expected to retain the ban on advertising
prescription-only drugs, they intend to remove many products from the
list, enabling them to be advertised and sold ’over the counter’ at
The move is seen in Whitehall as a compromise between the Advertising
Association, which wants the existing curbs to be relaxed, and the
Consumers’ Association, which opposes a free-for-all in drugs
Alan Milburn, the health secretary, is considering the ban as part of a
wider review of drugs policy. Aides say he is keen to see a ’radical
reappraisal’ under which more products are sold directly to consumers in
order to cut the National Health Service’s drugs bill.
The Downing Street Policy Unit is backing the plan to slim down
significantly the list of prescription-only medicines, which it also
sees as part of the Government’s efforts to cut unnecessary red
But the move would be controversial and the AA and the Consumers’
Association have already clashed over whether prescription-only products
should be advertised on the British Medical Journal’s website.
In the US, there was a huge rise in ’direct to consumer’ advertising of
drugs after the promotion of branded products was given the go-ahead in
America’s top ten drugs companies now spend more than dollars 200
million on such campaigns each quarter.