The Health Committee of the UK House of Commons has carried out the first review of the pharmaceuticals industry in more than 100 years.

The MPs concluded that the influence of the industry has expanded to the detriment of the public interest. This is partly due to inadequate oversight by regulators and the need for more rigour by health professionals.

The inquiry looked into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on health policies, health outcomes and future health priorities and needs. Specifically:

- drug innovation

- the conduct of medical research

- the provision of drug information and promotion

- professional and patient education

- regulatory review of drug safety and efficacy

- product evaluation, including assessments of value for money

The Health Committee noted that consumption of medicinal drugs is vast and is increasing. Medicines currently account for about 12% of the NHS budget and there has been a 40 % increase in prescriptions over the past decade.

The pharmaceutical industry is the UK’ s third most profitable economic sector, directly employing 83,000 people. The medicines produced have helped many people and improved overall health.

But the increased use of drugs has two associated problems: ’medicalisation’ leading to over-use and inappropriate use, greater risk of drug induced harm.

These problems are not caused by the pharmaceutical industry, but do reflect its influence. People have been taking ineffective and harmful medicines for centuries.

However, there is reason to fear that the industry has positively nurtured anxieties about ill-health. The fundamental problem, it is alleged, is that the industry is increasingly dominated by pressure from its investors and the influence of its marketing force and advertising agencies rather than its scientists.

The industry is hugely influential, affecting every aspect of the medical world, including prescribers, patients, academics, the media, and even the institutions designed to regulate it. Its influence in parliament is extensive.

The Annex lists the All-Party Groups the pharmaceutical industry supports. It is claimed that pharmaceutical companies encourage us to see ourselves as ‘abnormal’ and thereby requiring (drug) treatment. They have a powerful incentive to do so. The more people who see themselves as suffering from a medical condition, the larger the market and the greater the profits."

The MPs acknowledged the difficulty in balancing the need to maintain a competitive and successful industry with the effectiveness of the NHS.

Download the report The influence of the Pharmaceuticals industry.

- HAI’s statement in response to the Committee’s report

Last modified on May 3 2005.