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Pharma company accused of ‘bribing’ prescribers slammed by PMCPA

Published on 17/12/15 at 03:38pm
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Stirling Anglian, the company at the centre of media criticism for arranging meetings at lavish hotels in an attempt to encourage doctors to switch to prescribing its medicines, has been singled out for ‘particular censure’ by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA).

In an interim ruling, the body that oversees and enforces the ABPI’s code of conduct, ordered the company to issue a corrective statement, and submit to an audit of its procedures to assess the Scottish firm’s compliance with the code.

The complaint stemmed from a series of reports in the Daily Telegraph. They had alleged that Stirling Anglian had paid healthcare professionals in charge of local NHS prescribing budgets £500 a day and had ‘wined and dined’ them on a trip to a luxury hotel in the German spa town of Baden-Baden. After the advisory meeting Stirling invited prescribers to switch to Stirling Anglian medicines, as cheaper alternatives to create cost savings. The allegations prompted health secretary Jeremy Hunt to announce plans to prosecute doctors who took inducements from pharma companies.

In its response to the PMCPA, Stirling Anglian denied or refuted a number of claims the Daily Telegraph had reported, adding that the reports ‘were false or grossly exaggerated.’ The company denied that it had purchased ‘£1,000 worth of champagne’ or that the hotel in Baden-Baden was ‘one of the top 10 in the world,’ and said no delegate attending the advisory board had a jacuzzi in their room, as had been alleged. Further, it provided receipts as proof that the ‘lavish’ dinner held during the meeting had cost £71 a head, and that it had spent €447 on pre-dinner drinks.

However, the PMCPA panel still felt “the level was not appropriate and was out of proportion to the occasion” and was “extremely concerned about the poor impression given by the arrangements.” Stirling Anglian had spent relatively little time seeking advice, and the Panel ruled that “the primary focus of the day was… influencing participants rather than the provision of advice.”

This, the panel felt, constituted “an inducement to recommend Stirling’s medicines,” adding: “UK health professionals had been paid to attend a meeting where medicines were promoted, including pipeline products. This was unacceptable. Further, it appeared that as a result of attending the meeting, health professionals’ general actions indicated that switches to Stirling Anglian’s products would be instigated.”

The Appeal Board, to which the Panel referred the case due to its seriousness, was even more damning in its criticism. It “was very concerned about the profound lack of expertise and oversight within Stirling Anglian that had allowed the meeting to go ahead.  In the Appeal Board’s view the arrangements for the meeting had been shambolic,” and required an audit of the company before considering whether further sanctions would be necessary.

In a statement, Stirling says “it has co-operated throughout the investigation with the PMCPA and the company accepts the findings.” The company has appointed a new general manager since the scandal, and has stopped organising advisory boards until it is confident that it has appropriate oversight – possibly by employing compliance experts.

Stephen Scullion, chairman of Stirling Anglian Pharmaceuticals, says: “In the light of the findings we have ceased to commission advisory boards and have asked an independent expert to carry out an external audit of all our processes.”

Lilian Anekwe

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