‘Break link between patients' groups and big pharma'

18 August 2010

‘Break link between patients' groups and big pharma'

Henk van Gerven SP Member of Parliament Henk van Gerven believes that the direct financing of patients' groups by the pharmaceutical industry should be subject to more effective control. He proposes that patients' groups be funded from health care funds based on premiums rather than through sponsorship. "Patients' organisations must be independent if they are to operate critically. That's impossible as long as their continued existence is dependent on a single medical producer."

A report from Health Action International published this week shows that many patients' organisations' umbrella groups are supported by money provided by the pharmaceutical industry. Eighty percent of the total budget of the fifteen organisations studied comes from the industry. At the same time these groups are in frequent talks with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), responsible for approval of medicines within the EU. In addition, it appears that the code of conduct for advertising at European level is not being properly adhered to.

In the Netherlands too, many patients' groups are subsidised by pharma. This is particularly true of organisations for people with disorders requiring sustained and major medication where the market is subject to intense competition, as a separate enquiry conducted a few years ago by the Dutch national daily Trouw revealed. “The pharmaceutical industry can, through its sponsorship of patients' organisations, promote its own products," says Van Gerven. "The independence of these groups is therefore open to question."

In Van Gerven's view, patients' groups would be better financed from health care premiums. "Anyone can become a patient and benefit from an independent patients' organisation. Let's not forget that the sponsorship funds paid out by the industry also come eventually out of patients' pockets when they buy their medicines. So I'd rather that we supported these groups from collective resources and thus reduced the industry's influence.”

The SP is asking the minister in the meantime to launch a thorough enquiry into all sponsorship of patients' organisations within the Netherlands as well as into whether the existing code of conduct is being respected.

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