British consumer watchdogs today called for an inquiry into a government agency’s handling of a complaint about advertising for a new contraceptive pill.
Health journal The Drug and Therapeutic Bulletin (DTB) described the Medicines Control Agency’s “slowness” and “secrecy” when dealing with adverts for the pill Yasmin as “wholly unacceptable”.
The prescription-only pill, which was launched in April this year, was billed by its manufacturers, Schering Health Care, as helping to reduce weight gain, pre-menstrual symptoms and other common side effects.
Doubts were raised about the claims in the DTB, published by the Consumers’ Association, in August, however, and backed up last month by the pharmaceutical industry’s own watchdog, the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.
Schering later withdrew the adverts voluntarily.
But Joe Collier, editor of the DTB, said that the initial vetting of the claims and the advert’s wording which had been carried out by the MCA showed “serious incompetence” on their part.
He said: “The MCA’s slowness and secrecy are wholly unacceptable, particularly since huge amounts of taxpayers’ money may have been inappropriately spent on Yasmin due to the exaggerated claims made by Schering.
“The MCA’s position is untenable and demands an inquiry. What’s more, Schering should be required to send letters to prescribers and print a corrective advertisement.
“This is essential to ensure that the doctors and health care professionals are fully informed when advising women about contraception choices.”
The MCA, which regulates the promotion of medicines, said in a statement that it routinely monitors all published adverts for medical products to health care professionals and the general public.
It takes action “as necessary” and last year forced about 50 adverts to be either amended or withdrawn.
“The advertising for the product Yasmin that was the subject of a complaint has been withdrawn on a voluntary basis at the request of the MCA following a rigorous examination of the claims made,” the MCA said.
“The agency had conducted a previous, preliminary, internal review of the advertising as part of its monitoring of new products.
“Prior scrutiny does not restrict the agency in handling future complaints arising from the perspective of clinical use as this case demonstrates.
“The MCA is aware that concerns over advertising do arise from the perspective of clinical use and investigates and responds to complaints from clinicians.”
Schering told The Observer it stood by its claims, adding: “We believe that the claims made do accurately reflect the data which was published in peer-reviewed journals.
“We can’t comment further as we are going through an appeals process.”