The province of Ontario has announced the setting-up Canada’s first-ever Citizens’ Council to help regulators establish prescription drug policies. The panel will be modelled on the council established by the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for this purpose back in 2002.

With new drugs constantly coming to market and limited public funds available, drug-funding decisions have become increasingly complex. The Citizens’ Council will provide a real voice to Ontarians by engaging them in an open process that will help to shape the future direction of the province’s drug policy, says the province’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

The Ministry is now inviting people from all backgrounds to apply to join the 25-member Council, with recruitment ending June 30. It will not be necessary for applicants to have any special knowledge or background in health care or the pharmaceutical industry, and in fact the Ministry stresses that members will be expected to expressed their own views, and not those of any organisation or interest group.

The panel will meet twice a year to discuss significant matters relating to provincial drug policy and advise the government. Following each meeting, the Council will provide a report to the Executive Officer of the Ontario Public Drug Programs and to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, George Smitherman, who is also the province’s deputy premier.

"Good governance includes opening up processes to the everyday citizen's point of view,” said Mr Smitherman. “This council reflects our government’s commitment to ensure the public’s opinions and values are heard.”

Earlier this month, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reported that Ontario had the second highest level of prescription drug spending in Canada in 2007, at C$878, after New Brunswick on $910. Expenditures on medicines overall in Canada during the year grew 7.2% to C$26.9 billion from 2006, with prescription drugs accounting for 84% of the total national drug bill and spending on these products rising 7.5%, it says.