THE BLOG

European Parliament Makes It Easier for You to Know What's in the Medicines You're Taking

24/04/2014 11:06 BST | Updated 23/06/2014 10:59 BST

Doctors regularly get accused of treating their patients like children by not revealing all the facts, but it's nothing compared to how drugs companies can treat doctors. Astonishingly drugs companies are often under no legal burden to make their research public, despite millions of people depending on the drugs they develop for treatment.

This state of affairs has been in operation for decades. But it's only recently that controversy has been stoked by the revelation that Tamiflu is pretty well ineffective in preventing complications like pneumonia developing from flu--precisely what it was supposedly developed to do. Patients had no way of knowing that the drug was useless, because the company who developed the drug wasn't obliged to release their research to the public.

The British Government, like countless others around the world, paid out over half a billion pounds stockpiling a drug that doesn't do what it was supposed to do. Even worse, we can't ask for our money back like a shopper who bought a kettle that doesn't boil water could. The reason that drug companies can currently withhold the results of their drug trials is to do with intellectual property concerns. Similar to copyright law, it's a safeguard against a drug company losing money by a rival undercutting them by using their research and profiting from it.

When companies like Roche, who developed Tamiflu, can hide behind these laws and prevent doctors from knowing exactly what they're prescribing and patients from knowing exactly what chemicals and substances they're putting into their body, I think it is clear that the law is far too geared towards serving the drug companies' profit-making interests. When it comes to healthcare, profit and self-interest should always come second to the needs of the ill and the wider community. That's why a Liberal, Beveridge, gave us the NHS: an institution founded on the principle that society's first duty is to the care of the sick and needy, and only secondly to profit.

For the reasons I laid out above and for many more besides, the NHS is one of Britains's proudest achievements -- but I don't need to tell you that. We should look at its success and seek to extend the same principles to drug trials transparency. This is one of the many issues, like fighting climate change, or arresting terrorists and serious criminals , which are best handled at a European level because they ignore our borders. If we in Britain made drug companies publish their clinical trial data, they might decide simply to take their business to the continent to avoid our laws. That's why I'm delighted that the European Parliament is taking action by passing laws to oblige these companies to publish their clinical trials.

The proposals received cross-party support: the law was backed by 594 MEPs with only 17 opposed. No prizes for guessing which rag-tag outfit of extremists opposed doctors and patients knowing what's inside the drugs they take. That's right, UKIP MEPs voted against, along with such savoury characters as Jean-Marie Le Pen and members of Geert Wilder's party.

The truth is that the European Union benefits all of its members through new laws like this, protecting patients and empowering doctors. In the future, the results of drugs trials will be in the public domain for all to see. Patients need no longer fear that what they are taking might have unintended side effects, and governments won't have to waste millions of pounds of taxpayers' money stockpiling useless medicines.

Those who argue that we could pass our own British law forcing transparency on drug companies are missing the broader point. Thousands of drugs aren't researched in the UK, but elsewhere in the European Union. We avoid paying custom charges on our prescriptions thanks to the single market; now we have open, free access to the research and development knowledge of 28 countries and can draw on the talents of thousands of scientists of those 28 nationalities.

This shared knowledge and collaboration is at the heart of the European Union project, it's about improving the lives of ordinary people by working together despite our differences. UKIP's fixation on leaving the EU will leave patients in the UK behind.