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GSK bribery controversy spreads to Poland

Published on 14/04/14 at 08:32am
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Poland has become the latest country in a string of bribery claims to hit GSK as it faces legal action for allegedly paying doctors in the country to prescribe its drugs. 

The London-based firm is now facing a criminal investigation in the country as 11 doctors and a GSK regional manager have been charged over alleged corruption between 2010 and 2012.

A former sales rep said doctors were paid to promote GSK’s biggest selling medicine, the asthma drug Seretide (salmeterol xinafoate/fluticasone propionate), in the country.

A former sales rep for GSK in the Polish region of Lodz, Jarek Wisniewski, told the BBC: “There is a simple equation,” he said. “We pay doctors, they give us prescriptions. We don’t pay doctors, we don’t see prescriptions for our drugs.

“We cannot go to doctors and say to them, ‘I need 20 more prescriptions’. So we prepare an agreement for them to give a talk to patients, we pay £100, but we expect more than 100 prescriptions for this drug.

“It’s a bribe,” Mr Wisniewski said, confirming that although on paper the payments were for educational services, the doctors understood very clearly that they must produce a certain number of prescriptions in return.

The Lodz public prosecutor in Poland found evidence in documents given to doctors by GSK to support claims of corrupt payments in more than a dozen different health centres, where there was no evidence ‘patient education’ had taken place.

Spokesman Krzysztof Kopania said: “We have evidence that in more than a dozen cases it was a camouflaged form of a bribe. In return for the financial gains the doctors would favour the product proposed by the pharmaceutical company and they prescribed that medicine.”

One doctor has already admitted guilt, been fined and given a suspended sentence. He said he accepted £100 for a single lecture he never gave, but only under pressure from a GSK drugs rep.

The company says one employee has been disciplined and that it was co-operating with investigations.

Tough time for GSK

This comes at a torrid time for GSK as it is currently battling similar investigations in Iraq and China.

GSK said last week that it was ‘looking into accusations’ that its Iraqi business had hired government-employed doctors and pharmacists to act as paid sales reps for the company.

“We are investigating allegations of improper conduct in our Iraq business,” GSK said in a statement released last week. “We have zero tolerance for unethical or illegal behaviour.”

The long-running bribery allegations from China began nearly a year ago over claims it laundered more than £300 million to pay doctors in the region to prescribe its medicines.

GSK says it is working with authorities in China to resolve the situation, but a number of its employees were arrested and one appeared to admit to the allegations on China’s state news broadcaster CCTV.

If these allegations are proved to be true, GSK may have violated both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as it is illegal for companies based in either country to bribe government employees abroad.

In the UK this could mean GSK being fined up to 10% of its business earnings for 2013.

This would be on top of the 2012 payment of $3 billion (£1.9 billion) GSK paid the US government, currently the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history, after pleading guilty to promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a diabetes drug to the FDA.

Ben Adams 

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