At a glance: Abbott defends itself over ethics breaches

Is this the ABPI code of practice furore? Indeed. Abbott Laboratories has been suspended from the ABPI until at least 30 June because of what the ABPI board, which investigates alleged breaches of its code, called ‘one of the most serious cases it had considered’. Clause 2, which deals with actions likely to bring discredit on, or reduce confidence in, the pharma industry, was contravened.

What exactly is Abbott supposed to have done?
An anonymous source alleged that Abbott managers put on a greyhound racing beano for medics. Under the ABPI code, meetings for health professionals must not be wholly or mainly of a social or sporting nature and should contain matters of 'educational or scientific interest'.  Yet senior hospital consultants were also invited to Wimbledon (the tennis club, not the dog track) with centre court tickets and full hospitality.

You cannot be serious?
That's not all. Abbott admitted that, in February 2004, two members of its staff took a hospital doctor to a lap-dancing club, which could be said to constitute an elastic definition of 'educational or scientific' interest.

What has been Abbott's response?
Head of comms Pamela Harrison said: 'The allegations made during this case relate to the individual actions of a small number of employees in 2004. Abbott conducted a thorough investigation and as a result, these employees either resigned or had their employment terminated.'

And the ABPI is satisfied with that?
Perhaps, but it is going to audit Abbott's procedures in relation to the code again in May. Harrison, who was in her post at the time of the breaches, said she could not comment on whether any people involved were from the PR function.

So Abbott has been named and shamed?
These are not the words the ABPI is using. But the last companies to be suspended were Duphar and Fisons, in separate cases – the latter for 'unacceptable' hospitality – 12 years ago. Before that it was Bayer in 1986. Short of expulsion, it is the most serious sanction possible.

Isn't this more about the ABPI showing its code has teeth?
This case certainly sends a message to the pharma industry. Santé Communications was recently hired to promote the revised code, although its brief doesn't begin until April (PRWeek, 19 January).

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