Doctors' body accuses drug firms of 'disease mongering' By Michael Day, Health Correspondent
The Royal College of General Practitioners has accused drug companies of "disease-mongering" in order to boost sales.
The college, whose members include many of Britain's 37,000 GPs, says the pharmaceutical industry is taking the National Health Service to the brink of collapse by encouraging unnecessary prescribing of costly drugs.
In evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, the college accuses the companies of over-playing the dangers of conditions such as mild depression or slightly raised blood pressure.
Dr Maureen Baker, the college's honorary secretary, wants the Commons health inquiry to investigate the companies' practices.
"It would be fruitful to look into the increase in disease-mongering by them," she told The Sunday Telegraph.
"It is very much in the interest of the pharmaceutical industry to draw a line that includes as large a population as possible within the 'ill' category. The bigger this group is, the more drugs they can sell. If current trends continue, publicly funded health-care systems will be at risk of financial collapse with huge cost to society as a whole."
The college lists hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression as examples of common conditions that, in mild forms, are often inappropriately treated with drugs.
Richard Ley, a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "It seems odd for this criticism to come from the Royal College of all organisations, because a decision on when and how to treat a patient is the doctor's."
Dr Baker, however, questioned the impartiality of treatment guidelines from bodies of specialist doctors that tell GPs when and what to prescribe, saying they were often overly influenced by and financially reliant on drug companies.
Earlier this month, it emerged that three senior members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which recommended the introduction of the new five-in-one jab for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib had received "industrial support" from two pharmaceutical firms, Aventis Pasteur and Merck Sharp & Dome, which are supplying the vaccination.
Some observers are also worried about "hard-sell" methods applied to general practice. Last year, a survey of 1,000 GPs published in the British Medical Journal found that those who saw drugs-company representatives at least once a week were more likely to prescribe drugs that were not needed.