The prohibition on advertising prescription-only medicines (POMs) or prescription-only medical treatments to the public applies to all advertising material including company websites and social media (rule 12.12). POMs should be prescribed by GPs or other suitably qualified healthcare professionals on the basis of an informed decision following a consultation. In all media (apart from company websites, see below) references to POMs should not be made at all, as this is likely to be seen as promoting a POM.
Given that consumers shouldn’t receive a POM unless a consultation has taken place, ads should only promote a consultation for particular conditions such as erectile dysfunction, excessive sweating, weight control issues or lines and wrinkles rather than specific products.
The exception for company websites allows POMs to be referred to in certain places, where balanced and factual information that is clearly non-promotional is included. In order to avoid confusing information which does not fall within the scope of rule 12.12, and advertising content, the following should be taken into account:
- A home page may advertise the service but not the product. It should not refer to specific POMs with text; imagery; price lists; banner or carousel ads; hover text; small print; logos or testimonials which include references to POMs or directly link from the home page. The claim “we provide consultations for erectile dysfunction” would be acceptable on a homepage, but “Visit our Viagra page” or “consultation for Viagra” wouldn’t.
- Further pages on a website may include a price list as well as balanced and factual
information about a product, although websites should be designed to ensure that casual browsers do not come across information about POMs with ease. Acceptable information should accord with Summaries of Product Characteristics (SPCs), Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) or Public Assessment Reports (PARs) which includes product descriptions, their properties and conditions of use. Other non-promotional content might include disease related information or reflect the current body of evidence about the product, and its benefit risk profile. Marketers can also contact the PMCPA for advice under the ABPI Code of Practice which sets the standards for information made available to the public about POMs.
- The exact wording of information found in any of the above sources can be adjusted to aid understanding taking into account the technical knowledge of readers, but the meaning should remain the same. Therefore, before and after photos, special offers, prizes, price reductions, claims like “revolutionary products…thousands of treatments…performed every year with astonishing results”, and “diet pills that work” etc. should be avoided.
- POMs should not be presented as a choice for the consumer to select prior to a consultation, rather than the potential outcome of a consultation.
Ads for POMs are acceptable if they are directed at healthcare professionals. Ideally, sections of a website not aimed at the public should be access restricted. Otherwise, the sections for each target audience should be clearly separated.
All promotional and non-promotional material is also subject to UK medicines legislation. Contact the MHRA for guidance.
See our Help Note on the Marketing of Cosmetic Interventions and contact CAP Copy Advice here for guidance under the CAP Code.