Politicians are sometimes very unwise to quote another country’s health care in order to make the case for NHS reform.
As France braced for the worst drug scandal for years, it may well be holding the Number 1 position for a different reason:
France is gearing up for a report on one of the country's biggest medical scandals of recent years. French health experts now believe that the drug known as Mediator, developed for treating overweight diabetics, could have killed between 500 and 2,000 people before it was finally banned.
Servier, the second largest French drugs company, founded 50 years ago by Jacques Servier, 88, a French doctor, is known for its cult of secrecy and its excellent relations with French politicians. President Sarkozy himself once worked for the company as a lawyer during his brief legal career, when he was a young man.
Mediator contains a substance called benfluorex, which has been alleged in a series of scientific investigations to attack the cardio-vascular system and, in particular, to damage the valves of the heart. Despite a series of warnings, the drug remained legal – and its use was even officially subsidised by the French health service – until late last year.
However, the UK was bottom of the table for the amount spent on medicines, because of the high proportion of cheaper generic drugs used instead of expensive brands – while France was No 1. The UK spent €59 a head on medicines in 2009 – half the French spending, at €114 a person.
Things have changed a bit. France used to have the highest numbers on antidepressants – a 2004 survey found almost 20% of French adults and 25% of all women took mood-altering medication – but CNAM says it is now third after a government crackdown. GPs have been under pressure to moderate their prescribing and stop seeing the drug reps. It seems to have reduced the prescription of antidepressants – and of statins for high cholesterol and blood pressure. But there's been little impact on the use of antibiotics and tranquillisers.
The government has been accused of being too close to the pharmaceutical industry and in particular Servier, which is based in Neuilly sur Seine, where President Nicholas Sarkozy was mayor for almost 20 years. Last year he personally awarded its chief executive, Jacques Servier, with the Légion d'Honneur.
President Sarkozy may not be the first French President to be in trouble.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Telegraph: By Colin Randall
Published: 07 Dec 2004
President Jacques Chirac's wife has broken a 30-year silence to talk publicly about the anorexia that drove their elder daughter to try repeatedly to kill herself.
"A mother who fails with a child, who cannot bring a sick child back to health, always feels guilty," Bernadette Chirac said on French television. "And a father, too."
Laurence Chirac, now 46, was a promising medical student and worked for a short time after her studies with Samu, the emergency medical service, in Paris.
But she had suffered from an acute form of the eating disorder since she was 15, leading to several stays in hospitals and clinics.
Sixteen years ago, during her father's second presidential campaign, she was taken to hospital amid widespread rumours that she had died.
"Being famous can be harmful when one is faced with illness," Mrs Chirac said. "Confronting this kind of difficulty, you just want to hide from the gaze of others."
Laurence, whose younger sister Claude is a key member of the president's team at the Elysée, continued to suffer from the condition. In 1990 she tried to commit suicide by jumping out of the window of her fourth-floor flat.
"These children need some gaiety in their lives, to be able to see the sun," said Mrs Chirac,
She contrasted this ideal with the conditions in which her daughter was sometimes treated, "enclosed behind brick walls in a bedroom with a small window". She added: "That is why this mother wants to create a facility specific to adolescents' needs.
French Health Care as experienced by the President’s daughter.
We did not do too badly with our own Adolescent Psychiatric Units.