Drug safety Bill wins ministers' backing

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Indy Politics
THE Government has decided not to oppose a Private Member's Bill giving patients and doctors far more of the information on which the safety of medicines is judged - despite vociferous objections from the drug industry.

Giles Radice's Medicines Information Bill is due its Second Reading tomorrow. Health ministers will be seeking significant - but as yet unspecified - changes to it. But Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, has declared herself sympathetic to its aims and will give it 'a fair wind'.

The decision not to oppose the Bill was welcomed yesterday by Mr Radice who said his bottom line was that the medicines' licensing authority 'should have to give reasons for its decisions'.

At present, Mr Radice said, the law prevents information such as the results of safety studies and trials being disclosed, denying the public reasons why a drug has been licensed, suspended or revoked. Any Bill that did not result in the reasons for such decisions being disclosed 'wouldn't be worth a light', he said.

The Bill has cross-party backing and support from the British Medical Association, the Consumers' Association and the Campaign for Freedom of Information which sees it as the first of the Government's promises of more open government.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, however, is bitterly opposed to the measure, arguing it will lead to commercially valuable information being disclosed. Companies will seek licences in Europe not Britain as the new Europe-wide licensing system comes in under the single market, thus denying the NHS early access to improved medicines. It argues that the Bill would be 'a charter for foreign copyists' of drugs and for counterfeiters.

The industry has lobbied hard with Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, and William Waldegrave, who is responsible both for science and open government, warning that future investment could go elsewhere in Europe, damaging jobs and Britain's pounds 1.2bn pharmaceuticals trade 'surplus' in the long term.