Many medicines are being used on children despite not being tested and licensed for the purpose, according to a leading academic.
Professor James McElnay, from Queen's University Belfast, said the only way to make sure drugs were properly licensed for safe and effective use on the young was if more children took part in clinical trials.
But he said that most parents were not prepared to allow their healthy children to be used in such trials.
Professor McElnay, professor of pharmacy practice as well as pro-vice-chancellor for research and postgraduates at Queen's, said a survey of parents found that only 4% would enter their own child into a trial if the child was in good health, while the numbers grew to only 42% if the child had a life-threatening condition and the medicine being tested was being used for that condition.
In the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, he wrote of his concern about the widespread ignorance that medicines were being used outside their licence to treat children, adding: "Intuitively one would consider that children would be afforded more protection than adults regarding evidence-based medicine."