Spotlight: Shaping the future. Together.

Published on: 2 January 2019

100 years of consumer healthcare. self care advice.

In PAGB’s first 100 years, the medicines landscape in the UK has changed beyond all expectations, yet our founding principles are still as valid today as they were in 1919, says John Smith.

When the leaders of proprietary medicines manufacturers came together and formed our trade association in 1919, they did so because they faced challenging times and wanted to positively shape the future of the industry. 100 years later, we celebrate our centenary at a time of equal challenge and uncertainly, albeit for very different reasons.

Carbolic smoke ball ad

Back in 1919, manufacturers of proprietary medicines faced the threat of imminent legislation to protect the public from unscrupulous medicines advertising. At that time there was no such thing as an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, all medicines were available to purchase. A British Medical Association publication ‘Secret Remedies’ had put the industry in the spotlight and shown that not all manufacturers were truthful in their advertising – many made outrageous, unsubstantiated claims as there was no requirement to have evidence to support them.

The honest manufacturers faced a choice; bring their own house in order or have order imposed on them from the outside. They chose to form a trade association that would promote best practice through self-regulation and in 1936 published the world’s first ever self-regulating advertising code to protect the public and create a positive environment for the industry to thrive.

That ethos remains true within PAGB today.

What we can see in looking back through the history of PAGB is how forward thinking the Association has been from the start. While advertising is where it all began, PAGB activities have included lobbying, promoting exports, stakeholder engagement, public health, control of alcohol allocation during World War II, facilitating reclassifications and building the evidence base for self care.

It was almost 50 years from PAGB implementing a self-regulatory approach for medicines advertising before the first piece of legislation, the Medicines Act 1968, was passed, establishing a regulatory framework for the manufacture and supply of medicines.

The launch of the NHS in 1948 made members nervous at the time – but within a decade the people had embraced the new service to such an extent it prompted the question that still challenges Ministers today: ‘how can we help patients help themselves rather than turn to an overburdened NHS?’

The 1969-70 PAGB annual report claims that if medicines weren’t available to buy over-the-counter, four times as many doctors would be needed in the NHS. It concludes “without the subsidy which OTC medicines provide to the National Health Service, that service would be near to floundering” – a statement even more relevant today than it was back then.

Consumer and pharmacist in pharmacy setting

PAGB’s first self care meeting was held in 1972 and although progress has been made, there is still more to do to fully embed self care into the nation’s behaviour.

The increase in POM to P and P to GSL switches over the past 35 years has been revolutionary – there is no other country in the world that has been as successful in providing people with highly effective treatments that they can use to self care.

Over the years, engaging with stakeholders has been integral to PAGB activities. We have worked with Government departments, parliamentarians, healthcare organisations, research groups and patient associations among others. Notably, we have always worked closely with pharmacists; our first meeting was addressed by the Secretary of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and our first office was shared with the Proprietary Articles Trade Association. Our positive rapport with pharmacy organisations is still as important to us today.

Throughout our history we have consistently worked with our members to positively shape the environment and ensure people have access to effective products to enable them to self care. That is a strong foundation to take us into our next 100 years. There will be more challenges in the coming years as the UK leaves the EU and the growing and ageing population continues to put pressure on the NHS, but as PAGB, we will continue to work hard to shape our future, together.

It is a privilege to be PAGB’s Chief Executive in its centenary year. I look forward to working, and celebrating, with you throughout 2019!

John Smith is Chief Executive of PAGB, the consumer healthcare association.
3 January 2019