The pharmaceutical industry had to be reformed after a spate of drug incidents but this did not mean the current accreditation system for drug makers was failing, the director of health said yesterday. His department would introduce microbiological tests on pharmaceutical products sold locally and step up supervision of drug makers that supply products to high-risk patients, Lam Ping-yan said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. An overseas expert is expected to arrive within two months to work out plans to enhance drug safety, including a review of the good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards that all 25 local drug makers have achieved. The latest incidents - including tainted medicine, related to at least five deaths, and sale of unregistered products by local drug makers - have drawn criticism of the department's monitoring of the trade. Some medical critics said the GMP standards were failing. 'Of course the GMP system can always be improved, but it is not failing,' Dr Lam said. 'GMP provides a framework for the industry. It is an accreditation system like the ISO [International Organisation of Standardisation]. It is impossible for a certifying body or a health authority to look over the shoulders of drug makers in every step of their production process. Drug safety also requires self-discipline of the industry. 'GMP is being implemented in many countries. We want to learn from overseas experience.' This month, the department found that a tainted Europharm drug was linked to the deaths of five Queen Mary Hospital leukaemia patients. Last week, Marching Pharmaceutical Ltd (MPL) was found to have extended its products' expiry date on labels beyond their shelf life. On Monday, the department said 25,000 metformin tablets in packages of 500 supplied by local drug maker Christo to the Hospital Authority had yet to be registered. The department said earlier that the generic drug allopurinol made by Europharm was contaminated with fungus because of improper storage. Dr Lam said the problem with Europharm emerged mainly because the factory was 'overburdened'. Europharm is expected to take two to three months to sterilise its production line before it can resume operation. Regarding MPL and Christo, Dr Lam said his team was studying what action could be taken under the law. In the long run, he said, the department would reform the industry. 'We will step up supervision on pharmaceutical companies that supply products to high-risk patients,' he said. 'They will be required to commission third-party laboratory tests on their products and report to us. We also plan to introduce microbiological tests on drugs sold in Hong Kong markets. There are 19,000-some drug products in the market and there is no way that we can test every single one of them.' William Chui Chun-ming, education director of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said the Hospital Authority should consider introducing supplies of generic drugs from overseas until local makers could improve their quality and safety to restore public confidence.