Greece’s Supreme Court prosecutor, Yiannis Tentes, has ordered an investigation into claims that drugmakers or pharmacists could be deliberately creating medicine shortages in the country.
He has asked prosecutors in all Greek courts of appeal to look into the allegations, which were reported in Parliament by Panayiotis Kouroublis, a member of the opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party.
Mr Tentes has said he wants to know if patients' health is being jeopardised by the shortages which, it is alleged, are being created deliberately by players in the market in order to capitalise on Greece's economic crisis.
Meantime, the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies (SFEE) has adopted a revised, and stricter, industry Code of Ethics, the principles of which will be communicated by all drug company representatives to the doctors they visit on January 28 - "Code Day."
The revised Code sets out a series of tighter regulations on the promotion of prescription drugs, establishes a ceiling on conference sponsorship and creates specific conditions for the participation of health professionals in such events.
It also sets specific limits on industry donations, establishes criteria for market research work and clarifies some aspects surrounding consultancy services.
The new framework is a response "to the signs of the times and the times we live in," said SFEE president Konstaninos Frouzis. "As a leading industry, we should lead by example, by embracing a new mentality adapted to our times,” he added.
Markos Gerasopoulos, who chairs the industry group's ethics committee, said the new Code is in line with international rules governing the operation of pharmaceutical companies in Europe and worldwide, and has been revised in collaboration with Greece's national organisation of medicines (EOF).
"By updating the Code, we establish an even more stringent self-regulatory framework - more coverage in our areas of activity, higher sanctions, double fines for members who do not comply," he said.
The main amendments included in the new Code relate to:
- donations: these must be equal to no more than 1% of a firm's total turnover. Also, SFEE has created a special section for the Code on its website, where all donations, grants or benefits-in-kind made to non-profit institutions and public hospitals will be posted. Specific criteria for the approval of donations will include the mandatory signing of a contact, a board decision, and confirmation by the recipient that the donation was used for the agreed purpose;
- conferences and scientific events: the Code sets new restrictions on the number and participation of physicians, and prohibits the participation of accompanying persons in any activities, even if they are paying their own expenses. Conferences and scientific events may not be held in "highly luxurious" ventures such as spas, resorts and casinos, nor may they be held in tourist destinations during the high seasons of June 10-August 20 in the summer and December 10 to end-February in the winter. Sponsorship by pharmaceutical companies of conferences is limited and specific maximum limits are set;
- advisory services: the new code provides for a maximum annual limit to fees paid by pharmaceutical companies to healthcare professionals for services provided. Through new internal procedures, it establishes levels of fair market value payment for standard services and categories of healthcare professionals, based on the professional's level of seniority, the length of time they are employed by the company and the type of service they provide;
- market research relating to healthcare professionals: for the first time, the Code requires adoption of the principles of the Association of Corporate Market Research Europe for this type of work; and
- implementation of the Code: sanctions for non-implementation of its regulations are doubled, and the SFEE's code of ethics and transparency is authorised to examine cases ex officio. All decisions by both the primary and secondary committees will be published on the industry group's website and, if a company fails to comply with a decision of the secondary committee, it can be expelled or deregistered from the association.