Doctors told not to accept trips from drug firms
DOCTORS MAY no longer accept direct invitations from the pharmaceutical industry for trips to international medical meetings, funded by drug companies, following the clarification by the Medical Council of its ethics guidelines yesterday.
In a question and answer explanation of the section of the current Ethics Guide dealing with the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, the council said doctors should not accept “direct hospitality” from industry “so that their professional judgment is not affected by the hospitality”.
While accepting that payment of travel and accommodation expenses for doctors to attend meetings, either as participants or speakers, supports the aim of continuing professional development, the updated guideline says “these payments should go through unrestricted education and development funds made available by the sponsoring company to the institution which is hosting the meeting or the conference organiser”.
“Unrestricted education and development funds are not linked to or controlled by the organisations that contribute to them and healthcare institutions can choose to spend the funds any way they see fit,” the clarification says.
In effect the council is trying to break the practice of drug companies inviting individual specialists and key opinion leaders in medicine to major medical meetings by organising and paying for their flights and accommodation.
Now a company wishing to do this must pay the equivalent amount to the conference organiser to be placed in an education fund.
Significantly, however, the company will no longer be able to secure the attendance of named doctors via the fund.
It is understood the clarification arose out of a routine review of the council’s guide and not because of a particular incident.
The new advice also takes account of 2007 legislation on the advertising of medicinal products and the pharmaceutical industry’s current code of marketing practice.
Chairwoman of the Medical Council’s ethics committee Dr Deirdre Madden said she expected any enforcement would emerge in a “step by step” manner.
She said the clarification reflected a changing culture and was in keeping with international best practice.
“There is research to support the fact that doctors are influenced by even low-value practice aids.”
The clarification also covers areas such as the acceptability of doctors charging a fee for a visit by a sales representative from a drug or devices company and offers advice on the correct sources for doctors to use to keep up to date with developments in medication and device safety.
PHARMACEUTICAL ISSUES ETHICS FOR DOCTORS
* Doctors can accept drug samples from pharmaceutical sales representatives only for emergency use during night calls.Doctors should not accept gifts from commercial companies.
* Doctors should use sources such as the Irish Medicines Board to keep up to date with medication developments and device safety.
* Doctors may no longer accept direct invitations from the pharmaceutical industry for trips to international medical meetings.
* Doctors are advised it is likely the Medical Council would view them charging fees for visits by sales representatives as wrong.