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Financing of patient groups must be clarified

Patients need independent groups to defend their interests. There is a clear conflict of interest when patient groups are funded by pharmaceutical firms.

Under the new French law on hospitals (called "HPST" for hospital, patients, health and territory), pharmaceutical companies are permitted to be involved in so-called "compliance support programmes". Some patient groups have been instrumental in securing this provision.

The attitude of these patient groups is astonishing at a time when pharmaceutical companies are no longer disguising their aim of using patients in their sales strategies. Some groups appear to rely on drug companies to fund their education programmes. And banning this source of financing would certainly have deprived some groups of significant funding.

However, industry-financed patient groups risk losing credibility vis-à-vis the government, healthcare professionals and public opinion. Being dependent on such funding is hardly compatible with maintaining a critical spirit and acting solely in patients' best interests.

In France, the development of these groups is vital for defending patients' and healthcare users' interests and safeguarding their rights. But patients need strong groups, entirely devoted to their needs, with no conflicts of interest.

It is up to patients to set up groups that are impervious to commercial interests, and to urge the groups which are currently under the influence of pharmaceutical companies to become independent.

©Prescrire February 2010

"More clarity needed in funding of patient groups" Prescrire Int 2010; 19 (105): 43 (pdf, subscribers only).

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