Fianna Fail will be supporting the Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill through its second stage despite having a number of serious issues with the bill as drafted, according to their spokesperson for health and Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly.
While Donnelly supports most aspects of the Bill and its intents, there are a number of issues he highlighted within the draft, citing the lack of social media regulation as problem.
“This is about protecting vulnerable people and their families from charlatans. It is the case that the organisations which support those patients and families are reporting growing incidents of charlatans targeting vulnerable people and trying to extract as much money out of them as possible.”
“Arguably, much more worrying in some reported cases, patients are encouraged to stop with their medical treatment. We are moving into a new world of social media where regulation and we as legislators lag behind most of the time,” said Donnelly.
The Fianna Fail TD emphasised that the introduction of social media ads poses a major threat to vulnerable people in society.
“Pre-social media, it would be quite difficult for the snake oil salesman or woman to find and target these people. An online company can now be paid to identify and find people to a high degree of accuracy who are using keywords like “cancer” and “radiotherapy”, people who either have cancer or are doing some research for friends of theirs who have cancer.”
“One can advertise directly to them, to their screen at work or directly into their hand on a smart phone. We are in a completely new world. It is probably appropriate that we take a look at protecting people in that world,” added Donnelly.
Fianna Fail’s spokesperson for health suggested that the introduction of regulation that only allows people to advertise with medical professionals has little substance, as he believes it doesn’t matter who the message is coming from if it is a false one.
“One matter I would like to be considered is the idea that people can only advertise to medical professionals. I think I understand why this is proposed. It provides a level of expertise and an expert filter for advertisements but I do not think patients need to be protected in that way. If advertisements are false, then they are false. “
“The idea that someone could advertise to medical professionals but not to the public and that the public are incapable of absorbing this information or doing their own research is not the right way to go. If people are found to be falsely targeting vulnerable people, it does not matter to whom they are advertising. They simply need to be found, stopped and prosecuted for doing so,” stated Donnelly
In seeking further amendments to the Bill, Donnelly questioned why the text stops at cancer and it doesn’t apply to more people with various diseases.
“One question I have is why just cancer. If this is where we are going, the Bill needs to be pulled back quite considerably in certain ways but potentially expanded in other ways. Who else is being targeted? Are people with all sorts of other diseases being targeted? If we are doing this, then maybe we should consider doing it as a principle, rather than just for a specific disease, awful, obviously, as that disease is.”
“There is a rich vein of thinking behind the Bill and perhaps we could go beyond cancer and apply the principle right across healthcare. I am unsure whether this is a matter for pre-legislative scrutiny,” said Donnelly.
Donelly concluded by mentioning that Fianna Fail are in support of the intent of the Bill and will support it through its second stage.