Patients groups have a unique and powerful voice in shaping legislation on pharmaceuticals. Appearing to ultimately be concerned with the welfare of the patients and also being comprised of patients themselves, these groups can use their status as organizations knowledgeable on suffering, treatment, and patient needs to persuade governments to back some pharmaceutical company. Healy points out that pharmaceutical companies have recognized that patient groups are the ultimate lobbyists, and that they eagerly cultivate their support. Indeed, GlaxoSmithKline writes on its website they support about one hundred patient groups with not only monetary funding, but also with information: “sharing of best practices.”
Patient groups are rallying points around which patients and caregivers can learn about their condition and seek guidance in its treatment, and surely they should play a part in determining public support for – or against – government policies that might affect treatment of disease. It is naive, however, to think that patient groups are the “independent” organizations GSK claims they are. Certainly they are, as GSK says, not-for-profit, but their funding comes from pharmaceutical companies such as GSK. Without this funding many of these organizations could not provide their members with adequate support, but with this funding patient-groups are arguably no longer independent. GSK claims that their “relationships with patient groups are mutually beneficial.” GSK is quick to list the benefits they pass on to patient groups, but are tacit on those they receive in return: an innocuous vehicle through which to pressure government support and a potential market for profitable medications (perhaps rather than more effective ones).