Health & The Pharmaceutical Industry

During a debate on Health and the Pharmaceutial Industry, Charles Walker makes a speech in which he calls for transparency for the links between pharaceutical companies, charities and paid-for doctors.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I thought that I would need to have my boxing gloves on, metaphorically speaking, to take on the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), but as I listened to his excellent speech, I found that I agreed with much of it.

I must first declare an interest in that Merck Sharp and Dohme is based in my constituency. I am pleased to have that company there, it is a good employer and I hope that it continues to operate out of the UK as well as other countries. The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK. It employs many hundreds of my constituents and across the country it employs many tens of thousands of people. It spends a vast amount of money on research—it should be remembered that only one or two in 100 drugs on the drawing board reach fruition. Of course, pharmaceutical companies need to make returns on those one or two to fund future research. I have no objection, therefore, to pharmaceutical companies marketing more aggressively than perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to see them do, or to their making a profit.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked in health care as a PR person. That is why I listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman. At the tender age of 27, I was responsible for promoting certain diseases, one of which was osteoporosis, and 11 years ago, it probably needed promoting. The system works as follows. Some motivated and passionate charities are connected with certain diseases, and they have very little or no money. In such cases, generous pharmaceutical companies with a treatment for one of those diseases come along and sponsor some of the charities' activities. As I said, we needed to promote osteoporosis because so many people, especially women, were afflicted with it, and politicians—we had a Conservative Government then—did not take it seriously or see it as a priority.

I have to say that I now regret my involvement in promoting some diseases, especially depression. While some people do suffer from serious depression and SSRIs are useful drugs for treating it, I am concerned that too many doctors, for whatever reason, prescribe SSRIs without taking the time to understand the causes of their patients' problems. I understand, from talking to many of the same charities to which the hon. Gentleman has talked, that sometimes a patient gets less than five minutes and to get them out of the door they are prescribed SSRIs, which can have serious side effects for some people and cause great discomfort. They can also be very difficult to come off. I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister will take away the concerns about SSRIs. Perhaps we need a process of education for GPs to ensure that they take more time to understand the root causes of people's problems before prescribing a pharmaceutical solution.

I am glad that the ABPI recognises some of the concerns about support for patient groups and paid-for doctors writing in support of drug companies' solutions to an illness. Coming from a PR background, I am aware that there was always a difference between an advertorial and an editorial, and perhaps we have seen editorials that should have been branded as advertorials. There should be greater transparency. Pharmaceutical companies should make it clear which groups they support, be they academic or charities, and when a doctor or professional writing in support of a treatment is in receipt of funding from the company producing that treatment, that should be made clear.

This was going to be a short speech, so I shall conclude by agreeing with the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on the danger of counterfeit medicine and internet pharmacy, 99.99 per cent. of which is unregulated and operated from places such as Tonga in the Pacific. Drugs that are sold back to the UK may be as harmless as sugar but, for example, if a woman were to take Propetia, it could have severe, possibly even life-threatening, implications for her health. I hope that I can join the hon. Gentleman, perhaps in a future debate in Westminster Hall, to explore that problem, which was not covered by the report.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to take part and I thank all Members for listening to me so closely.

3.35 pm

| Hansard