Long-standing media claims that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has drawn up a “battle plan” to lead the debate on informed patients are based on a myth, Members of Parliament (MPs) have been told.

The rebuttal appears in written evidence given to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC)’s recent inquiry into the activities of lobbyists in Whitehall. Yesterday (January 5), the PASC published the report of its investigation, in which it calls for a register of lobbying activity and stronger safeguards on the “revolving door” between government and business.

While Chris Brinsmead, president of AstraZeneca and the ABPI, was giving evidence to the inquiry, he was challenged by the panel’s chairman. Labour MP Dr Tony Wright, about a report of a Pharmaceutical Marketing Society (PMS) meeting held back in 2000 in which the ABPI had allegedly described its “battle plan” thus: “to deploy ground troops in the form of patient support groups, sympathetic medical opinion and healthcare professionals... which will lead the debate on the informed patient issue. This will have the effect of weakening political, ideological and professional defences... then the ABPI will follow through with high-level precision strikes on specific regulatory enclaves in both Whitehall and Brussels.”

Mr Brinsmead replied that he would investigate the claims of a "battle plan" and, in a memorandum sent to the Select Committee shortly after his appearance, he wrote: “having spoken to colleagues both inside and outside the ABPI, I can assure you that no such document exists.”

He tells the MPs that, in 2000, the ABPI’s then director-general Dr Trevor Jones had hosted a meeting in which, discussing the difficulties patients have in accessing the most appropriate medicines, Dr Jones had described patients as “foot soldiers” in the campaign to improve medicines access. “The point being made was that the patients are the strongest advocates for improving their own healthcare,” says Mr Brinsmead.

The ABPI had not said at the meeting that there would be “high-level precision strikes on specific regulatory enclaves," but the event was reported by a journalist “who used his own words to describe a traditional stakeholder contact programme” and, in Mr Brinsmead’s view, had “simply got carried away with the military analogy.”

During the evidence session, Mr Brinsmead told the Committee that he did not believe there was a problem with lobbying and added that, for the pharmaceutical industry, “the bedrock of what we do is about trust and how we work with our partners.”

“The industry, the NHS and the government are all working to the same end, which is to improve patient health care and that is really what we are about. It is not that surprising that we would work with the Department of Health who have the same end in mind. Patient groups as well would be seeking to improve patient welfare. It is perfectly true that the industry, either through the Association or through companies, will work with various different people, whether it is civil servants or ministers, to talk about some of the issues of the day,” he said.

Asked about the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), which was still being renegotiated during the MPs’ inquiry, he added: “clearly, if we had that much influence we would not be in a situation where we would be going back to a deal that was supposed to be for five years.”

- The written submissions to the enquiry have now been published but do not yet form an approved final record of the written evidence received by the Committee.