The information which pharmaceutical manufacturers provide for prescribing doctors – in the form of sales promotion and advertising – has been the subject of considerable and sometimes acrimonious controversy in Britain since the early 1960s. One result of this has been persistent political pressure to restrict both the content and volume of this information under the National Health Service. In response, the pharmaceutical manufacturers have accepted that in this respect they have to operate in a politically delicate environment. As part of this acceptance, they have in 1977 reached an agreement with the Department of Health and Social Security which takes account of these demands for stricter voluntary and statutory controls on their sales promotion. Both the industry’s Code of Practice and the Government’s regulations under the 1968 Medicines Act are being considerably tightened in order to impose more rigid standards of clarity and precision in the future.

However, this agreement and these changes do not detract from the importance of the more fundamental issues discussed in this monograph. Indeed, they may serve to highlight the dangers which might ensue if undue restrictions were to stifle the flow of information between the pharmaceutical innovators and the prescribers. The importance of this free flow of information for all concerned must be properly understood if pharmaceutical innovation and therapeutic progress is to prosper. This paper is intended as a contribution to this understanding in the context of prescribing under the National Health Service in Britain.