HL Deb 18 June 1975 vol 361 cc871-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take having regard to the statement of the Director-General of the World Health Organisation that many drugs with a marginal impact on health or no impact at all are being sold to consumers.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government share the concern of the Director-General of the World Health Organisation and will encourage any suggestions for dealing with this problem on an international basis through the World Health Organisation. Her Majesty's Government have recently announced plans for a comprehensive review of the efficacy, safety and quality of all medicines currently marketed in Britain, many of which have never been reviewed. It is expected that the assessment of the first categories of products will have begun by the end of the year. Noble Lords may know that since 1971 the law has provided that medicines may be marketed only after their efficacy, safety and quality have been considered.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would he not agree that this matter is of tremendous urgency, because we are told there is need to economise? Yet his Department, as he knows, spends millions on proprietary drugs which have little or no effect on the patient; indeed, often the patient develops an iatrogenic disease which stems from these drugs. Is it not time we took action instead of saying, "We will have a review which lasts for many years"?


My Lords, I would not disagree with what my noble friend has said. She has asked what Her Majesty's Government propose to do in this matter, and I have said that the Government have decided to undertake this review. I think I must point out to your Lordships that there are a large number of products—something like 36,000—which are on the market today and being prescribed in varying stages. It will take a long time to assess their efficacy, safety and value to the profession.


My Lords, if all these portentous authorities have their way, what is to happen to all those glorious bottles of pink medicine which innumerable generations of doctors have prescribed, to the vast relief of innumerable patients?


My Lords, while one would respect the views of the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, would the noble Lord not agree that since the passing of the Medicines Act much has been done to combat the problems inherent in the Question put by the noble Baroness?


My Lords, I think this is so. The Director-General of the World Health Organisation talked about 30,000 to 100,000 drugs which he felt needed to be considered. In fact, this situation does not exist in this country where the number of drugs involved is probably less than 2,000. There are only some 200 or 300 products which are advertised to doctors, so the problem in this country is probably not as great as the Director-General of the World Health Organisation may feel.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is generally felt, quite apart from the health side of this Question, that there are many economies that can be made if a proper examination is made along the lines suggested by the noble Baroness? I should have thought the question of economy ought to be looked at with some urgency, in view of the general state of the national economy.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, because this is precisely the view of Her Majesty's Government, particularly in view of the shortage of money available for the National Health Service. We do not intend to let the grass grow under our feet in this matter.


My Lords, is not the 64,000 dollar question whether the general practitioner should continue to have an absolute right to prescribe any medicines which he may think right in the interests of the patient? If, as a result of the review which was referred to by the noble Lord, some of these 30,000 drugs are found to have no therapeutic value whatsoever, will the Government take the next step and prevent the general practitioner from prescribing those drugs?


My Lords, the whole purpose of the review is to do precisely that. I think we would go so far as to say that many patients would show an improvement even if no medicines were given to them. I think we accept this, and the time has come when we must look at this subject very carefully, perhaps with a view to applying some kind of restriction.

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