§ Mr. Hannam
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is yet able to say when the new safety controls on imported drugs will be brought into operation.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
As from today, we will be able to ensure that all medicines imported and placed on the market in this country have to satisfy the same high standards of safety and effectiveness as those that are manufactured here. A new statutory instrument tightens the provisions which were allowing substantial quantities of imported drugs from all over the world to be imported exempt from our product licensing. New licensing arrangements for EC manufactured drugs will ensure that nothing from other EC member states is marketed in the United Kingdom unless it is either identical to or has no differences in therapeutic effect from a produce licensed here, and has been manufactured by the same manufacturer or group of manufacturers. The new scheme will also make it easier for us to control the handling, labelling and packaging of all medicines sold in this country.
The recent growth in importing of drugs has caused understandable public and professional concern over the safety of some drugs being dispensed by some chemists. There is no evidence that any patient has ever suffered harm, but we have acted urgently to eliminate any avoidable risk. Since December, we have been going through the process of consultation that the law requires. We can now assure everyone that the integrity of our strict licensing system for medicines is restored.
There remains the difficulty that a minority of chemists are making unintended profits from their contracts by buying cheaper imports from the continent when currency fluctuations and differing Government price controls make them attractive. This practice does not cost the taxpayer or the National Health Service any more than we intended to pay. However, it does cause damage to pharmaceutical companies manufacturing in Britain. We are considering urgently with everyone concerned how we can modify the system to make fairer arrangements for the taxpayer, the chemist and British-based industry.