Headlines: July 27, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In international health law news, England is reorganizing the National Health Service. The changes, which shift more decision-making responsibility to doctors, are the largest changes to the system since 1948. According to the New York Times, “Practical details of the plan are still sketchy. But its aim is clear: to shift control of England’s $160 billion annual health budget from a centralized bureaucracy to doctors at the local level. Under the plan, $100 billion to $125 billion a year would be meted out to general practitioners, who would use the money to buy services from hospitals and other health care providers.” While the plan is intended to streamline the NHS, critics argue that doctors will need to develop their own bureaucratic systems for dealing with patient needs. It is unclear yet whether the reorganization will achieve the coalition government’s goals of cutting costs and increasing patient choice.
In regulatory news, an FDA advisory panel has voted against proposed restrictions on prescription painkillers. The expert advisory board voted against the plan proposed by the FDA due to concerns that it did not do enough to reduce the misuse and abuse of painkillers. Panel members mostly objected to the fact that the proposed plan did not require doctors to go through training in order to prescribe painkillers. While the proposed plan did include a voluntary training component, it did not make training a requirement in order for doctors to be able to write prescriptions for medications such as Oxycontin. Currently doctors are only required to register with the US Drug Enforcement Agency before being allowed to prescribe pain medication.
In other government news, federal efforts to limit the types of foods that can be advertised to children have stalled. As part of the federal government’s effort to fight obesity, new regulations were proposed that would severely curtail advertisers’ ability to promote unhealthy food during TV programming aimed at young audiences. However, regulatory efforts have withered in the face of strong industry opposition to the measures. While many food companies voluntarily restrict the types of food they advertise to children, consumer advocates argue that the industry’s self-policing does not go far enough. It remains to be seen whether final regulations will be promulgated this year, and if they are, whether they will survive a potential challenge on first amendment grounds.
Finally, a recent study has found that young people have a significant amount of trouble with medical devices. According to the Boston Globe, “More than 70,000 children and teens go to the emergency room each year for injuries and complications from medical devices.” The Globe reported that some of the main causes were contact lenses and hypodermic needles. The authors of the study believe that most of the problems can be traced back to malfunction or misuse.
Meg Larkin is a law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.