The European Commission intends to harmonise national rules governing the provision of information to patients on medicinal products, in strict respect of the EU-wide ban on advertising for prescription drugs.

Its report on existing practices, published on 20 December, points out that EU citizens have 'unequal access to information' depending mainly on the member state where they live. Some countries, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, 'provide free access to basic information on all authorised medicines (eg names, composition, price) in order to provide an overview on all medicines and ensure transparency'. Others maintain 'very restrictive rules'. Certain states (Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden, etc.) give an extensive role to the public authorities, while others authorise partnerships of public and private organisations, including health professionals' associations, patient organisations and the pharmaceutical industry.

According to the Commission, the absence of EU standards on the quality of information - particularly information found on the internet, a source increasingly used by patients - may increase the chances of 'wrong, misleading or confusing information creating health risks'.

At the heart of the debate, of course, is industry's role. The subject has already been discussed within the Pharmaceutical Forum created by the Commission, in which stakeholders discuss the issues facing the pharmaceutical industry. For the third and last year of the forum, however, the controversy is still raging in the member states and among health professionals. Industry maintains that...

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