At a glance: ABPI cracks the whip on tighter Code of Practice

The ABPI tightened up its Code of Practice last year, with the new code coming into force this January. What's happened now? The ABPI reported last week that the number of complaints it gets alleging pharma company misdemeanours is rising, with 110 so far this year - there were 101 in the whole of 2005.

Is that because the code is tighter or because more people are aware of it (and are thus making complaints)? Possibly both. The ABPI puts the figures down to the ‘major publicity campaign' it ran earlier this year.

Didn't it have agency help with that? Yes, Santé Communications was brought in to raise awareness of the code (PRWeek, 20 Jan).

Who is reporting whom under the code? The ABPI says the number of complaints from health professionals is still much higher than from other sources. But the Prescription Medic­ines Code of Practice Authority, which operates the code at arm's length from the ABPI, is not planning to release a breakdown until the end of the year.

So we don't know if there's a trend for GPs, say, to give the ABPI a quick bell to report suspected bad practice? According to figures from the PMCPA, complaints from GPs rose from 12 in 2003 to 20 last year. ‘Health professionals' made 52 complaints last year.

Are pharma companies now racing to land their rivals in the brown stuff? Apparently not. The number of firms complaining to the ABPI has dropped markedly between 2003 (when there were 60) to last year (just 28). The ABPI suggests this may be because its own comms initiatives mean more pharma company employees are aware of what they should - and should not - be doing.

How are malefactors being punished? The PMCPA is taking out ads in the British Medical Journal and Pharmaceutical Journal. The first one said Merck Sharp & Dohme's entertainment of GPs and their wives ‘brought discredit upon, and reduced confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry' (PRWeek, 29 Sep).

Gosh, that's got a bit of the headmaster's study about it… Yes, and there are more ads to come: Janssen-Cilag (as a result of Burson-Marsteller's ‘cash carrot' to journalists, as reported in PRWeek, 9 June and 3 Nov); Daiichi Sankyo (not complying with a code ruling); and Pfizer (sponsoring nurses) are also getting the name-and-shame treatment.

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