Glaxo Wellcome is secretly testing a service to promote prescription-only Ventolin inhalers directly to asthma sufferers, bypassing the medical profession.
The trial, which is running in Cheltenham, includes a door-drop lifestyle booklet with a questionnaire which is intended to identify asthma sufferers and build a database of them. The database is understood to include other categories of sufferers.
The sufferers have been sent an “information” booklet which emphasises the benefits of Ventolin and is intended to encourage asthma sufferers to pressure GPs into prescribing the branded product over preferred generic rivals.
A spokeswoman from the British Medical Association says: “This kind of move is disturbing, patients obviously have little knowledge of which brand is best for them, and unlike doctors can be swayed by packaging and other marketing techniques.”
It is understood that the door-drop, initiated by direct marketing agency Claydon Heeley, will build a list of sufferers in different categories. Technically it is not illegal because it is not using medical records or confidential information. The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries is understood to have no guidelines covering promotion of prescription-only branded products to consumers.
The aim is to put pressure on GPs who tend to prescribe cheaper generic drugs in order to stay within fundholding budgets.
“The intention is to give the consumer a positive message about the benefits of Ventolin,” says a Glaxo source, “there is no hard sell and no call to action. We can’t sell the products directly but we can get consumers to try to persuade GPs of the benefits of branded products – it is really a form of advertising.”