Claire Winser

Why we will never sell drugs in the UK like they do in the US

Whilst we have very strict advertising regulations here in the UK – it’s a completely different ball game on the other side of the pond.

The USA and New Zealand are the only countries which allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise pharmaceutical product direct to consumers.

“Whilst we have very strict advertising regulations here in the UK - it's a completely different ball game on the other side of the pond. “

So why is it banned in the UK I hear you ask? It’s felt that physicians are best to decide on the type of medicines that should be prescribed to patients, and not companies who have had no formal training.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of Direct to Consumer advertising.

It gives consumers insight into new drugs

UK patients often don’t know about the medication that is being prescribed to them by their doctor whereas US patients may ask their doctor about the new medication in their consultation and find out if this would work for them. The downside is that it can lead to patients self-diagnosing and seeking medical attention when it’s not necessary, becoming a waste of doctors and physicians valuable time.

It can encourage patients to seek earlier treatments.

It’s a well-known that the earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat and defeat. Direct advertising well increase patient awareness of any warning signs and encourage them to seek medical attention earlier than normal. This isn’t always the case as it will depend on the diagnosis but in terms of cancers this ethos is definitely more effective. Increased awareness will come at cost and you may find an inflation on the products to compensate for the advertising spends which is not ideal.

Appealing images

Up to 1 in 10 people have a fear of going to the doctors. Images used within the advertising can place tense minds at ease, and it can give a positive mind set to aid the recovery process. However the side effects are often brushed over quickly and can lead to a false impression for the patient.

The promotion and advertising of medicinal products in the UK is governed by advertising laws and the Human Medicines Regulation 2012, which is enforced by the Medicines and Healthcare Products regulatory Agency. In practice, pharma operates under self-regulation in relation to the promotion of medicines according to the ABPI’s Code of Practice for the Promotion of Prescription-Only Medicines, which is administered by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority. So the big question is would the UK’s reactions change if the ban was lifted, and what affect does it cause in the UK?

ZS Principal Chris Morgan raises a good point, “The only advertising people like is that which is surprising, or funny, and pharma advertising is so heavily regulated that it is rarely ever those things. “In the US, people accept DTC advertising. The whole healthcare provision system accepts that it’s been there forever, but in the UK, it hasn’t. The transition would probably be a difficult one.”

It appears that some US consumers are not a fan of the direct to consumer advertising. According to a Harvard study conducted in 2016, 57% of consumers would support removing pharmaceutical adverts form the TV, ad more than a 3rd believe that the advertising increases their cost. Not only that the American Medical Association (AMA) also wants to ban DTC advertising. Board Chair-elect Dr Patrice Harris thinks that DTC advertising ‘inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when they may not be appropriate’, and leads to ‘increased demand for more expensive drugs’. 

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pharmaceutical sales    recruitment    news    us v uk    differences    pros and cons