A little gentle persuasion goes a long way

It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. We might dislike drug companies (they are only interested in making money, not like us at all, we only want hugs, new-age music, world peace and plenty of trees) but they are a necessary evil.

Let's face it, if it wasn't for the profit motive, there would be precious few advances in any science or technology. Would well-meaning philanthropists have invented the remote-control?

Money makes the world go round; if Mother Teresa was in charge of a drug company it would not be in business very long. If they don't make a profit, they will have no resources to put into the development of new drugs; and if there is no prospect of a profit at the end, their shareholders won't stand for putting resources into what is a prolonged, costly and often ultimately futile process.

And where would we be then. Imagine life without Viagra and all those Pele adverts (Pele has no problem himself, you understand, it's the other guys he's concerned about). How did we live?

It's a long pecking order, and down at the bottom are the drug reps, the human (and usually pretty, much prettier than us) face of big pharma, and the GPs.

'Mr X recommended this at a lecture last week,' said the rep enthusiastically, eagerly conforming to the stereotype.

'I see,' I said, blinking, momentarily blinded by his shiny shoes and partially asphyxiated by his cheap cologne, 'So you were at this lecture?'

'Oh yes,' he said happily, 'Fantastic, it was'.

'And this lecture was sponsored by your company?'

'Yes,' he said proudly, cheap pens appearing as if by magic on the desk, 'We have an unwavering commitment to supporting postgraduate education'.

'Which means that your company was paying this consultant to give the lecture?'

'Well ... yes'.

'So basically, what you are telling me, and presenting as what seems to be the major selling point for your drug, is that a consultant I've never heard of and who your company, I'm sure, paid a large amount of money to give a lecture, has recommended your drug, quelle surprise.'

'That about sums it up,' he admitted, 'You've got me bang to rights, it's a fair cop.'

'That's good enough for me' I said, 'I'll use it. Now what about a few more pens?'

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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