GPs 'won over by hard-sell drugs firms'

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DOCTORS are using aggressively marketed new drugs when proven treatments up to 30 times cheaper are available.

The first investigation into doctors' use of new products revealed that prescription levels for two new antibiotics trebled over three years, although they were far more expensive than existing drugs that did the same job, and had side-effects.

The senior doctors who carried out the investigation are urging that the use of all new drugs should be monitored and a register established.

Dr Hugh Webb, consultant in medical microbiology and a member of the drug utilisation research unit at Queen's University and the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, said their work was possible only because of the computerised data on prescribing by GPs in Northern Ireland. 'We are saying that some form of monitoring should be available, and is needed, elsewhere in the UK. '

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman also called for an independent 'Drugs Information Service' to be set up in the light of a report yesterday that doctors were being bribed by a drugs company to prescribe the company's products. He said he would write to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, to ask whether these reports 'are the tip of an iceberg in the unethical activities of drugs companies in promoting their products, and of GPs in accepting free trips abroad and even cash payments from the companies'.

The Belfast team looked at three groups of new drugs on the market and found huge increases in prescribing over a three-year period - 126 per cent, 207 per cent and 300 per cent. The researchers, who have published their results in the British Medical Journal, say: 'Our conclusions suggest that the (medical) profession has not instituted effective checks to ensure that the legitimate promotion of new products does not lead to inappropriate and wasteful use. In particular, new drugs should not be allowed to replace equally effective, safe and tolerable established treatment without good cause.'

In the case of the new antibiotics, they found there was little reason for using them routinely and that widespread use was potentially dangerous.

'Perhaps the most serious consequence is the inevitable development of widespread bacterial resistance and an increasing incidence of side-effects. They may ultimately become ineffective for managing life- threatening illness,' the researchers said.