Letter: Mr Waldegrave's curate's egg

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The Independent Online
Sir: The National Consumer Council awaited William Waldegrave's White Paper on open government with interest and anticipation. Like the proverbial curate's egg, the White Paper is good in parts. We find the proposals for a new voluntary code, and the statutory right to information on health and safety issues, edible, if in need of a hefty dash of regulatory salt. It is difficult, none the less, to wave away the accompanying odour of stale provisos, exemptions and special-interest pleadings.

Those who supported and lobbied extensively for Giles Radice's Medicines Information Bill earlier this year will be bitterly disappointed that the White Paper fudges the issue of access to drug information. While it holds out the promise of greatly improved access to information regarding the licensing of medicines, it makes this contingent upon the finalising of European Community legislation - already significantly delayed.

Consumers need, and are demanding far better information about the medicines they take. This is urgent and should not be positioned further. William Waldegrave lists section 118 of the Medicines Information Act 1968 as one of the statutory provisions prohibiting the disclosure of official information; he even formally recognises the criticism this clause has attracted. Until this restrictive legal provision is removed, it remains an overwhelming barrier to one of the Government's own priorities - the rational and efficient use of medicines by healthcare professionals, and consumers.

Yours faithfully,



National Consumer Council

London, SW1