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Friday, 22 January 2010

Bad Science and Big Pharma

The posts of the last couple of days have reminded me of how so many people have realised that drugs companies are in their business to make money. Yes it's good people realised that anyone selling anything is in it for the money. Any business - unless it's non profit making - is in it to make money. Unfortunately many people seem to have taken this idea to extremes and assume that anything with a money element must be fraudulent. The recent example is doctors getting paid extra to do Swine Flu vaccinations - a job which is over and above their normal work. To many this seems to mean doctors will make them have Swine Flu vaccinations to get the money whether it is good for the patient or not.

So doctors get paid for treating you therefore they will tell you treatment is needed when it isn't? Medicine goes in cycles like anything else and individual doctors are going to disagree on the right treatment for people. This is a fact of life that many people seem unable to grasp. Any professions will incorporate different opinions on the same subject.

People have to be paid for doing a job. GPs are self employed - they need to make enough money to live on and to run their businesses. Drug companies endeavour to persuade doctors to buy their products for their patients. The NHS wants doctors to prescribe generics as far as possible because it's cheaper. It's all a balancing act and money will come into it somewhere. Bringing in the financial element does not automatically render the transaction corrupt.

Drug companies research new drugs and when they discover one which works they have to test it rigorously and market it once they have approval. This whole process is very expensive and they need to cover those costs before they make a profit. It is in the interests of the drug companies to develop drugs which work and which have the minimum of side effects. It is not in their interests to develop drugs which maim or kill. What business wants to gradually reduce the number of its customers in such a fashion? Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science is interesting and informative but you need to take on board more than just the fact that drug companies make money out of selling medicine to ill people.

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