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Drug company's 'radical' care scheme sparks GP controversy

A drug company has sparked controversy over a scheme to help manage patients with heart disease and diabetes by funding a dedicated management team in a PCT to 're-

inforce' GP prescribing.

The pilot scheme will allow GPs to refer patients to a four-strong team of health professionals, funded by Pfizer, who will use the company's software to develop care protocols for 600 patients. Pfizer heralded the project as a model for the future and said it would like to see the initiative expanded to reach GPs directly.

But the GPC has expressed alarm at the initiative and warned it would influence GP prescribing decisions.

The 12-month pilot scheme will begin next month and is being tested in Haringey Teaching PCT. Patients will

be referred to the scheme by their GP.

The project has the backing of the National Primary Care Trust Development Programme, which is promoting improvement in health services through 'radical change'.

Dr Mayur Gor, chair of Haringey TPCT's professional executive committee, said Pfizer's input would help patients and may reduce the drug overspend through a more appropriate level of prescribing.

He added: 'We are very excited about this initiative. It is important to assert that they are not there to take over.

We have been very clear on this issue and this was discussed during the ethical approval process.'

But Dr Peter Fellows, chair of the GPC prescribing sub-committee and a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, said it was 'inevitable' that the scheme would influence GP prescribing decisions.

He said: 'The inference is that a specific company would be leaning towards promoting its own drugs.

'You can understand why PCTs are looking for a service that is free of charge but I think it is more appropriate to bring in prescribing advisers and pharmacists to help rather than have the anxiety of a commercial interest in the background.'

RCGP prescribing spokes-man Dr Jim Kennedy, a GP in Hayes, Middlesex, welcomed the pilot as a way to see what kind of role the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS could have in partnership.

A spokesman for Pfizer denied the company was attempting to promote its drugs over others. He said: 'The scheme will provide patients with individual health education and advice and reinforce GPs' care recommendations and prescribed courses of treatment.' Representatives from Haringey TPCT, Pfizer and the Whittington and North Middlesex Hospitals would evaluate the project.

By Brian Kelly

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