AT A GLANCE: Pharma industry lashed for ‘bombarding’ GPs

Sounds serious – bombarding GPs with what?
Promotional messages. A poll by consumer group Which? last week found GPs receive, on average, four visits per month from drug reps and five mailings about new drugs every week. One in four GPs were spons­ored to attend a conference, seminar or training event in the UK in the last 12 months and five per cent were sponsored to attend an event abroad.

Anything else?
In a single month, one GP was offered nine conference places and 13 meals, and received nine visits from drug reps, ten letters, 21 leaflets, two patient information booklets and one training DVD. This amounted to 22 companies contacting her about 31 drugs.

So this is a reputational issue?
In-house and agency PROs working for pharma companies obviously want them to be seen as responsible prov­iders of data about their products – not chancers with an eye to a quick buck. Only seven per cent of polled GPs said they trust the information they receive from drug companies as much as independent sources. Neil Fowler, editor of Which? magazine, said: ‘You want to know you’ve been prescribed the right drugs, not drugs produced by the company that spent a lot of money on promotion and inducements.’

But isn’t the ABPI Code there to sort out this type of thing?
That’s exactly what ABPI head of media relations Richard Ley said, challenging Which? to let the industry see evidence of code-breaking. Incidentally, in the same week as the survey results came out, three pharma companies had to put ‘name and shame’ adverts detailing their breaches of the code in the medical press. Bayer was found guilty of ‘bringing discredit upon, or reducing confidence in, the pharma industry’ by failing to comply with an undertaking in relation to a leaflet that had already been ruled in breach of the code.

A timely flexing of the code’s muscles?
There’s more. GlaxoSmithKline fell foul of the same clause in the code by being deemed to have promoted a product prior to the grant of its marketing authorisation. And Roche was publicly reprimanded for failing to provide accurate information to the Code of Practice Panel, although it hadn’t breached the code itself.

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