The Medicines Control Agency (MCA), the UK government body that licenses new drugs, opened its doors to the public for the first time recently but failed to invite most of the public health groups.
These groups got their way in to the annual meeting only by faxing an invitation to each other.
In the past, MCA meetings have been open to those members of the public prepared to pay the lb250 entrance fee this for an organization that is supposedly publicly accountable.
Not that the public was missing much. The MCA's chief executive Dr Keith Jones spoke generally about the work of the agency and its progress over the year, but refused to reveal the numbers of deaths and adverse reactions caused by new drugs that had been licensed by the MCA and considered safe by them.
When challenged by WDDTY, the MCA's Dr Susan Wood said it was "not appropriate" to reveal the figures. "There is not necessarily a causal link, and so any adverse reactions have to be analyzed first," she said.
Once analyzed, adverse reactions are reported in a bulletin which she said is available to consumer groups. However, a straw poll after the meeting revealed that no consumer group had ever seen a copy.
The MCA relies, in part, on the yellow card system to discover adverse reactions, but these are only completed by an estimated 15 per cent of general practitioners.
Last year, there was a 17 per cent fall in the numbers of reports received to 18,117 yet the drugs companies themselves experienced a 39 per cent increase in adverse reactions reported to them from outside the UK. This indicates that while the numbers of drugs reactions are increasing, those being identified by the GP, let alone those being reported by him, are falling.
Serious or fatal reactions to a drug are placed on a computer on line information system by the MCA within 72 hours, assuming it has the information in the first place.
During the year, the MCA reduced the number of days it took to assess a new drug to just 58, against the 112 days it took in 1989. The MCA, already the fastest regulator in Europe, said that quality and safeguards had not been sacrificed in speeding up the process.
The MCA, which is funded by the drugs industry through licence applications, is freezing its charges for 12 months.
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