Doctors' links to drug firms may need new rules - HSE


THE CHIEF executive of the Health Service Executive, Prof Brendan Drumm, has proposed that new regulation could be considered to govern the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors.

In a letter to Department of Health secretary general Michael Scanlan, the HSE chief said it was interesting to note that in Australia, the Competition and Consumer Commission had to authorise a self-regulatory code of conduct for the drug industry.

He said in the letter, sent this year, that the Australian industry appeared to produce monthly reports on sponsorship it had provided to medical professionals. “We have discussed this before, and I don’t know if there is a possibility that some degree of regulation could be introduced in Ireland. This is something that might be worth discussing with your own medical people,” he wrote.

In a statement the HSE said Prof Drumm believed protocols in other jurisdictions were of interest, and that “it is worth considering whether some degree of regulation in this country would benefit the drug industry and the medical profession”.

The code of conduct in Australia referred to by Prof Drumm regulates advertising of prescription drugs to doctors, pharmaceutical company sponsorship of medical conferences, payment of travel and accommodation expenses of doctors attending such events and provision of other hospitality.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, which represents the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, has its own code of marketing practice for the sector covering areas such as hospitality.

The code states that subject to any regulations in force relating to prices, margins and discounts, no gifts, pecuniary advantages or benefits in kind may be supplied, offered or promised by a pharmaceutical firm to persons qualified to prescribe or supply products, unless they are inexpensive and relevant to the practice of medicine or pharmacy.

Gifts for the personal benefit of healthcare professionals (such as entertainment tickets) should not be offered or provided, it states.

The code says the industry has a special obligation to ensure healthcare professionals are kept up to date with developments in the field, and that with this in mind, the practice has arisen of meetings and events being organised between the industry and professions for further exchange of ideas and information.

The code says firms may legitimately provide assistance directly related to bona fide continuing education of healthcare professionals, which genuinely facilitates attendance of the professionals for the duration of the educational aspect of an event.

However, it says such support and assistance must “always be such as to leave healthcare professionals’ independence of judgement manifestly unimpaired”.

It says support to professionals may cover travel expenses, meals, refreshments, accommodation and registration fees. “It should be the programme that attracts delegates and not the associated venue or hospitality,” it states.

The adds that any hospitality offered to healthcare professionals must be reasonable in level and likely to appear so to independent third parties; be secondary and strictly limited to the purpose of the associated event, and not exceed the level that recipients would pay for themselves.