Angry Doctor

Monday, February 12, 2007

Quackbuster: Singapore 3

The Health Products Bill was passed in parliament today and becomes the Health Products Act.

HSA gets more teeth to pull unsafe health products off shelves

SINGAPORE: The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) now has more teeth to pull off the shelves medical products that have been tampered with illegally, with or without the support of the medical companies involved, thanks to the Health Products Act passed in Parliament on Monday.

The Act also toughens penalties against those who break the law.

Violators face a $100,000 fine or a three-year jail term, or both.

Previously, the maximum fine was $5,000 or $10,000 and a jail term of up to two years or both.

Under the Act, all medical devices like pacemakers and stents will also be regulated.

Other categories, such as medicines, will be added over the years.

During the second reading of the Bill, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan took questions from Members of Parliament, some of whom called for the Act to be expanded to include health supplements and prevent a repeat of the Slim 10 case a few years ago.

Sam Tan, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said: "I appreciate the need to be circumspect and not to over-legislate and hence urge the government to consider other measures such as stricter advertising guidelines for health supplements to ensure no superlative unfounded claims are made. The government can also step up public education on the do's and don'ts of taking health supplements."

On whether to regulate health supplements, the Health Minister said that this was a complex issue and instead of rushing into it, Singapore would first study the experiences of other countries and weigh the pros and cons.

Another alternative would be to educate Singaporeans to be more savvy and discerning when making product choices.

One MP voiced concern about regulation costs for businesses, especially smaller companies.

Halimah Yacob, GPC Chairman for Health and MP for Jurong GRC, said: "The HSA could also consider extending some financial assistance to the small businesses to help them set up a system to comply with the registration and licensing requirements.

"This is a win-win strategy as the real objective of the Bill must be that businesses hold high standards and with penalties kicking in only if there are violations. Hence it is better to try and help businesses to comply in the first place, rather than to rely on penalties alone to keep them in line."

Replying, Mr Khaw said: "We should not over-regulate, not only medical devices but also for other heath product categories that may eventually be added. There is a cost to regulation, whether in terms of licence fees or other costs in complying with regulatory requirements.

"We must strike an appropriate balance between consumer protection and business viability. That is why we are taking a risk-management approach to regulating health products: doing the minimum for low-risk products and applying stringent regulations only on the high-risk products."

The HSA will also continue its post-market surveillance of products to ensure they remain safe for consumers even after they have received the all-clear.

angry doc must confess to being disappointed.

It seems the law will currently apply only to 'medical devices' (are biomagnetic bracelets 'medical devices'?) and will not extend to cover health supplements in the foreseeable future.

Law-makers and healthcare professionals do not always have the same point-of-view when it comes to health products and supplements of unproven efficacy.

To the legislators it's a matter of balancing the welfare of the consumers with the profits of the businesses.

To angry doc it's a simple matter of whether the seller is lying.

angry doc does not see health products and health supplements sold with 'unfounded claims' as 'low-risk products'. Turning a blind eye to such products perpetuates magical thinking and the belief in unscientific systems of medicine.

I guess it just means angry doc will have to blog harder then...

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