The everyday practice of medicine is much the same as ever – diagnosing what is amiss and, with luck, putting it right. But recent years have witnessed, or so it seems to many, a profound shift in the nature of the ‘clinical encounter’, in favour of doctors staring at their computer screens, filling in protocols, checking everyone’s cholesterol levels and showing an almost indecent enthusiasm for prescribing drugs. So it is that in just fifteen years the number of prescriptions issued by doctors in Britain has increased a staggering threefold. It is now not unusual for those in their seventies and beyond to be taking half a dozen different medications.
The driving force, and substantial beneficiary, of this mass medicalisation is of course the pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma as it has pejoratively become known. Its devious methods of marketing its drugs have rightly attracted much criticism. David Healy’s cleverly titled Pharmageddon captures the moral dimensions of what is at