In the UK direct advertising for prescription drugs (with the recent exception of the over-the-counter anti-obesity drug Alli and the statin Zocor) is banned.
This is because no-one is allowed to interfere or influence the doctor-patient relationship that allows the ethical treatment and prescribing of drugs that are optimal for treating the patient/illness. Pharmaceutical companies are also not allowed to send out promotional press releases about their drugs unless its about the outcome of a clinical trial for the same reason.
Of course there is the debacle over the UK government’s, National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which approves drugs for use within the NHS. It has been dubbed “a rationing body” by the media over decisions not to give drugs that could extend life at the earliest intervention in killer diseases such as Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer. The debate over this goes on.
But I learn of a new threat to our right to claim the best treatment when we need it. And it comes from the US where insurance companies are beginning to dictate what drugs should be given to patients by their consultants.
In particular, one insurance company is offering onocologists – a doctor who specialises in the diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of those with cancer – $350 a month for each patient that is put on their recommended regime, including drugs.
What this means is that the newer, more expensive and more effective drugs such as Cimetidine, Interleukin-2 and off-label (drugs not licensed for the treatment of cancer) will be off limits to patients whose doctors agree to this “backhander”.
According to the Life Extension organisation “these cookbook protocols” will result in cancer patients dying sooner and using up fewer resources in the process and doctors will be able to squeeze more patients in. If a doctor has 400 active patients and 100 are on the insurer’s “approved’ chemo drug programme that amounts to $35,000 a year and $420,000 a year.
Yet another reason, if one was needed, to fight for our National Health Service.