Which? is calling on the European Commission to scrap plans that could needlessly cost the NHS millions.
Next month, the commission will consider plans to relax rules which stop companies marketing prescription drugs to the public.
The change would allow pharmaceutical firms to push ‘information’ about their branded drugs directly to consumers through TV, radio, newspapers and other media.
Which? fears the change would lead to the NHS being saddled with higher drug costs, as patients may well demand more expensive, branded drugs from their GP – despite equally effective generic versions being available.
In a survey of 200 GPs we carried out last year, almost a third said patient requests helped them decide whether to prescribe a new drug.
In the US, where the ban on direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) was lifted in 1997, 80% of the $279bn spent on prescription drugs each year is on brand-name products.
Which? is spearheading an alliance of nine groups representing consumers, patients and medical professionals urging the European Commission to ditch the plans, which could add millions of pounds to the NHS drugs bill.
Pete Moorey, public affairs manager at Which?, said: ‘We need to draw a clear line between information and advertising, otherwise DTCA will be like letting advertising in through the back door.
‘We don’t want to end up in the same boat as the US, where people demand specific branded drugs from their doctor when cheaper equally effective generic drugs are available. The huge and unnecessary increase in cost that this could bring would divert much needed funds away from other areas of the NHS.’