The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has recently published advice for consumer websites on the rules governing medicines advertising, to help the sites work within the parameters of the Medicines Advertising Regulations.

The guidance covers all websites registered in the UK or aimed at UK consumers which provide services that may lead to the prescription and or the supply of a prescription-only medicine (POM).

The MHRA’s top five advice tips are that:
- the Home Page should focus on the medical conditions and services provided, and should not include direct reference and hyperlinks to named POMs;
- prices: the cost of a specific POM should only be provided as part of the prescribing process or after a prescription has been issued;
- icons or similar features encouraging the purchase of a POM – such as “Buy now!” or a pictorial icon - should not be used;
- content: all information about medicines should be balanced and factual and set within the context of the range of treatments available. Specific POMs must not be promoted: and
- enforcement: failure to comply with the Advertising Regulations will result in a request for the website to be amended/withdrawn.

“The Internet is used widely to provide information to consumers and to promote products and services. Our guidance is designed to give advice to advertisers who are looking to advertise their services and inform customers without promoting specific medicines and thereby coming within the scope of the Advertising Regulations,” said Jeremy Mean, the Agency’s group manager for vigilance and risk management of medicines.

Advertising complaints in 2007-8

Meantime, the MHRA’s Advertising Unit has reported that it handled 190 complaints about medicines advertising during September 2007- August 2008, compared with 199 in 2006-7 and 172 in 2005-6.

As in previous years, a substantial proportion of complaints last year concerned the promotion of botulinum toxin products for cosmetic use; these products are POMs and should not be promoted to the public. After excluding these cases, just under one-third of the complaints about POMs and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines came from health care professionals, says the Unit.