The Medicines Control Agency is the UK's drugs licensing authority. It's there to protect the consumer against dangerous pharmaceutical drugs, and to pull any drug that may be causing harm.
It also happens to be one of the most secretive organizations in Britain. Its meetings are held in secret, and no minutes of proceedings, apart from revealing the names of attendees, are ever made public. Any member who would dare step out of line and reveal proceedings to the press could face two years' imprisonment if the information compromised a drug company and its work.
The National Audit Office has been investigating the workings of the MCA and has concluded that the drug licensor needs to communicate better with the public (or at all, come to that) and to become more transparent.
It's also discovered that not only is the public unaware of the MCA's responsibilities, but also even health professionals are unclear of its duties.
Worse, the introspection of the MCA is so complete that its warnings about drugs are sometimes ignored by the manufacturer, often with impunity.
Perhaps this is all to do with the funding of the MCA. It is one of the few drugs agencies in the world to be entirely funded by. . .the drugs industry.
It's an arrangement that may one day have to end, says the National Audit Office.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2003; 326: 119).