The UK pharmaceutical industry code of practice authority received 92 complaints about drug company activities in 2009, compared with 112 the year before, and it considered 87 cases, down from 103 in 2008.

40 complaints were received from health professionals last year, compared to just 24 from pharmaceutical companies – encompassing both members and non-members of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), according to the latest Code review published by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), which operates the Code at arms’ length from the ABPI.

Complaints made by pharmaceutical companies are generally “more complex” than those from outside the industry and usually raise a number of issues, says the Authority.

Also last year, two complaints were received by members of the public and four by pharmaceutical company employees. There were seven anonymous complaints and one from an organisation. Nine of the complaints made by health professionals were also anonymous.

Last year’s remaining 14 complaints were nominally made by the director of the PMCPA, and arose from media criticism, voluntary admissions by companies and alleged breaches of undertakings, says the Authority’s review, which notes that in 2007 it had received 127 complaints, 134 in 2006, 101 in 2005 and 119 in 2004.

Meantime, following a successful pilot in the northwest of England, the PMCPA says it plans to run more Working With The Pharmaceutical Industry roadshows in partnership with the NHS.

In January, the PMCPA joined forces with the NHS North West Medicines Management Network to offer the first such roadshow, to NHS employees in the region, with the aim of increasing their awareness of the ABPI Code and its impact on how the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry work together. Events took place in Blackpool, Preston, Bury and Manchester, and Code Awareness information was delivered to hundreds of NHS staff in the region.

Keen to learn
The feedback from the initiative has been “very positive,” says PMCPA director Heather Simmonds. “NHS employees were keen to learn about the ABPI Code and how regulations apply to the relationships between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry. Our objective was to increase awareness of the Code, and by doing that, increase the confidence of NHS employees to engage appropriately with the pharmaceutical industry.”

“We are now keen to hear from other NHS organisations which would be interested in running a similar project in the future,” says Ms Simmons.

The roadshow “has really encouraged debate about how the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry can work together to deliver better outcomes for patients,” added Helen Allanson, director at NHS North West Medicines Management Network. “We feel it has given the individuals who attended the sessions more confidence to begin to work in partnership with pharmaceutical companies. We very much hope this will spread around the rest of the NHS and are already looking forward to a return visit by the PMCPA in 2011.”

Details of the roadshow, including feedback and tips for health professionals, are now available on the PMCPA website