HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc213-5
8. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what requests she has received from the pharmaceutical journals for clarification of her policy towards them: and if she will make a statement.

Dr. Owen

I have received a number of representations about the possible effects of our proposals to reduce pharmaceutical promotion. I do not wish to see the position of journals of reference value prejudiced.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful reply. He will agree, I am sure, that there should be the widest possible dissemination of information on new drugs. He will be aware that accidents have occurred because of misunderstandings over the use of new drugs. In my constituency the pharmaceutical industry is a very big and very good employer. It provides excellent working conditions. Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will not impede the fine progress which this industry is making?

Dr. Owen

Yes. I think that the pharmaceutical industry makes a valuable contribution to the country's export drive, and we shall do everything possible to help it. However, it spends a high percentage—something like 14 per cent.—of the product of its home sales on promotion. Although there is a need for information about new drugs, I think that there can be too much promotional activity.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Does my hon. Friend also accept that although it is necessary to protect the future of pharmaceutical journals, some of the protection might be afforded by redirecting resources from the industry, which spends too much money on representatives, creating a ratio between representatives and doctors of about one to eight?

Dr. Owen

The whole question of medical representatives needs looking into. Doctors are scientifically trained, and obviously they need objective information. But whether they need such a large amount of spending on medical representation is open to doubt. I feel that too much is being spent.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister agree that it would be all to the good if his proposal led to the pharmaceutical industry spending its promotional money strictly on the provision of information—reducing the money spent on favours and general promotional activity concentrated on general practitioners which have commanded so large a part of it hitherto?

Dr. Owen

Yes. I have made it clear that gifts and lavish amounts of samples are a charge which should not be made on the National Health Service. At the moment they are claimable on the VPRS system. I think that there is a widespread feeling that this is an area for sensible expenditure cuts which might then be devoted to the National Health Service. I look forward to the support of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.