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GPs demand U-turn on co-proxamol ban

By Daniel Cressey

The official drug regulator is coming under intense pressure to rethink its decision to withdraw co-proxamol after it admitted there is no acceptable alternative for some patients.

GPs will be expected to take the legally risky route of prescribing the drug on a named-patient basis, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency made clear.

The GPC condemned the agency's stance as 'absolute and utter nonsense'.

The row broke out as a Pulse survey of 66 GPs and 79 consultant rheumatologists revealed an overwhelming proportion want a U-turn on the plan to withdraw co-proxamol's licen-ce. Some 70 per cent of GPs and 94 per cent of rheumatologists demanded the MHRA revisit the decision.

An agency spokesperson said it recognised there was 'a small group of patients' with a clinical need for co-proxamol as 'alternatives appear not to be effective or suitable'.

Despite this, the licence withdrawal would go ahead. Unlicensed supplies would remain available for use 'on the responsibility of the prescriber'.

GPs complained the plan would put them in legal limbo.

GPC prescribing spokesman Dr Peter Fellows denounced the MHRA's position as 'absolute and utter nonsense'.

He said the GPC was opposed to co-proxamol's withdrawal and it was inappropriate to expect GPs to prescribe it on a named-patient basis.

Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said the withdrawal was a 'backwards step in pain management'.

Dr Roger Henderson, a GP in Newport, Shropshire, said: 'The grounds on which this ridiculous decision has been reached are spurious. This drug is a lifeline for some of my arthritic patients.'

Earlier this month Pulse revealed that 1,350 new prescriptions are still being issued for co-proxamol every month. Some 72,000 patients are still taking the drug – in most cases, GPs say, because the alternatives do not work.

Rheumatologists are also calling for a U-turn on the plan to phase out co-proxamol completely by the end of 2007.

Dr Andrew Bamji, president of the British Society for Rheu-matology, said: 'My view is that it is unreasonable to withdraw a drug from those who understand the risk.'

But a minority of GPs said the MHRA must stick to its guns. Dr Keith Wells, who practises in Stockport, said: 'Co-proxamol is a dangerous and addictive drug. I have seen several suicides over the years.'

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