New government regulations affecting all NHS staff will affect the way that gifts or hospitality operate within the public health sector.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that all such gifts or hospitality received by NHS employees from drugs and medical device companies will have to be explicitly declared. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.
The new government guidance has been dubbed the ‘Sunshine rule’, and is being introduced in order to prevent NHS staff from abusing their positions.
Previously there had been a risk that opulent gifts or luxurious hospitality could be offered to healthcare workers in exchange for preferential treatment within the NHS system for certain pharmaceuticals or procedures.
As a result of the new legislation, NHS organisations will be required to maintain a hospitality register in which staff will declare all gifts and hospitality that they receive from pharmaceutical firms and medical devices manufacturers.
With regard to the new legislation, Hunt indicated that he was acting on information that he had received previously, which brought into question the transparency and neutrality of processes in the NHS.
Hunt stated: “Disturbing evidence has come to my attention that small numbers of NHS staff have tried to influence NHS purchasing decisions in return for payment, gifts or hospitality from pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers.
“This is a complete abuse of their position and will be shocking to the vast majority of staff who want the best for patients.”
In addition, Hunt also indicated that he believed the current regrettable situation was compounded by the number of sales representatives present in NHS establishment. Hunt stated that as many as 65 reps were on site at any one time according to a recent report.
In a robust defence of the policy, Hunt stated that “only those serving their own self-interest should have anything to fear, with patients and taxpayers set to benefit.”
Speaking on the subject, Dr Virginia Acha, the Executive Director of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), welcomed the legislation.
“We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and NHS England as plans for the ‘Sunshine Rule’ develop, to ensure that we maximise our combined efforts on disclosure for the benefit of patients and the public.”
Acha also pointed out that the ABPI had been governed by its own self-regulated Code of Practice for over half a century.