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Roche censured for drunken conference antics

Published on 21/02/13 at 11:33am
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The conduct of senior Roche employees has come under the spotlight following a complaint about drunkenness and poor behaviour at an overseas medical conference last year.

An anonymous and uncontactable complainant to the PMCPA claimed that: “Vodka shots and shots of varying colours flowed like hot lava, unstoppably.” 

The Roche staff were alleged to have been dispensing this hospitality to doctors at the conference during a ‘raucous’ late-night drinking session at a bar.

The complainant said one senior Roche employee jumped onto the stage in a drunken state and ‘made a buffoon of himself’ being physically evicted from the bar by bouncers.

The PMCPA said the manufacturer was in breach of clause 9.1 of the ABPI Code of Practice, which states that “high standards must be maintained at all times”.

But it was cleared of the most serious breach, clause 2’s “bringing discredit to, or reducing confidence in” the pharma industry.

Roche was also found not to have fallen foul of clause 19.1, which concerns the proper provision of hospitality by pharma firms to health professionals.

Since the accounts about hospitality differed, the panel said it was difficult to determine precisely what had happened and that the complainant had not been able to prove their complaint on the balance of probabilities.

But the case is embarrassing for Roche: in its appeal, the firm denied wrongdoing but admitted that a large part of what the complainant alleged was factually correct.

Roche staff had attended a dinner at a local restaurant organised for UK customers attending the conference - but the PMCPA said there was no evidence that UK doctors from that dinner had then joined the employees in the bar.

Bar receipts were provided by Roche, but these were not for shots and the PMCPA could not say who had actually drunk them.

However, the Appeal Board expressed surprise at the “number, frequency and timing of drinks purchased” on company credit cards by the Roche staff.

Furthermore, the employees were aware that other UK health professionals were at the same bar and the PMCPA pointed out that they should be “mindful of the impression created by their behaviour whenever they were on company business”.

A senior manager was indeed escorted from the premises after dancing on stage, although a UK health professional - who was also a Roche delegate at the conference - remonstrated with bar staff that he ‘had done nothing wrong’.

But the employee was still not allowed to retrieve his own belongings and the impression created by all this was ‘unacceptable’, the PMCPA said - hence the failure to maintain high standards.

The PMCPA turned down Roche’s appeal and the verdict will be published in the May 2013 Review.

Adam Hill

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