A drugs company lavished “unacceptable” levels of hospitality on NHS officials from across the country according to an inquiry.
The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) launched an investigation after newspaper reports broke the story.
One particular board meeting, conducted in a German spa town, particularly caused concern.
Officials employed in assessing drugs for the NHS were put up in luxury hotels, and each received a payment of £1,000 from the company.
It is thought that this could have compromised their neutrality.
Commenting on the issue, the report indicated that the hotel utilised was “out of proportion to the occasion”, and that the event had been “an inducement to recommend” the company’s products.
The report noted that the “panel was especially concerned that at the end of the advisory board participants addressed what they would do differently as a result of the meeting which, in the panel’s view, demonstrated that the primary focus of the day was in providing information to and influencing participants rather than the provision of advice to the company.”
Continuing its verdict on the retreat, the report concluded that the arrangements were irregular and could have brought the NHS into disrepute.
“The time spent obtaining advice appeared to be extremely limited and further no preparation was needed. Taking all the factors into account the panel did not consider that the arrangements either for the whole day or just the afternoon were such that the UK health professionals had attended a genuine advisory board meeting. It therefore ruled a breach of the Code. The panel considered that the meeting was an inducement to recommend Stirling Anglian’s medicine. A breach of the code was ruled.”
When conducting such meetings, it is generally considered that the NHS should use no more than normal hotel facilities, in order to ensure that NHS officials are not compromised in the selection of vital medicines.
Considering the necessary links between the health service and the pharmaceutical sector, complete neutrality is essential, and such hospitality could seriously compromise this in the eyes of the general public.
In addition, the PMCPA said it was “extremely concerned” that UK health professionals had attended the meeting on the “false understanding” that it was an advisory board and that they had been paid to do so.
The overall expenditure on prescribed medicines in the NHS is expected to exceed £15 billion next year; a figure which puts the importance of this issue into perspective.