Dr Hans Heuvelmans, the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, two units under the Inspectorate of Health Care, namely the Unit for Application and Use of Medicines, and the Unit for Advertisements on Medicines, are responsible for the regulation of pharmaceuticals. The European Union market currently comprises 15 member states, with 377 million inhabitants. There is free movement of commodities such as pharmaceuticals among member states, but differences and distinctions do exist, such as in registration criteria, requirements for outlets for over-the-counter drugs, property and qualification standards, and acceptability of mail-order pharmacies. The prices of medicines sold in different member states also show significant variation. There is nothing specific on Internet matters in the laws or regulations for pharmaceuticals and e-commerce in the Netherlands.
Day-to-day practice relies on collaborative efforts with the authorities of other countries in the world. The development of a quality seal of approval, such as the HON Code of Conduct (HONCode) for medical and health Websites, and Web Trader, may be useful in some instances. On a daily basis, all notices from various sources, e.g. police units, customs, citizens, foreign inspectorates are channelled to the Chief Inspectorate. After evaluation of information, appropriate actions are taken in collaboration with foreign services, police, customs, financial departments, etc. The measures mainly concentrate on information gathering, preparation of counteraction and international cooperation.
On a national basis, measures based on repression, such as increased penalties, regular customs checks, and contact with foreign agencies, have been deployed. By using existing tools and by informing the public, the health authority can fulfil its role of safeguarding public health. But how far can or should consumers be protected?