GlaxoSmithKline's marketing activities are again under the spotlight after it emerged that the drugs major is being investigated in Poland for allegedly bribing doctors to promote its asthma blockbuster Seretide.
The BBC's Panorama programme (to be broadcast this evening) has discovered that 11`doctors and a GSK regional manager have been charged over alleged corruption between 2010 and 2012. It will include an interview with a former sales rep for GSK in the Lodz region of Lodz who says "there is a simple equation. We pay doctors, they give us prescriptions. We don't pay doctors, we don't see prescriptions for our drugs".
He goes on to claim that "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 that although on paper the payments were for educational services, the doctors understood that they must produce a certain number of prescriptions in return. The BBC notes that a Lodz public prosecutor found evidence in documents given to doctors by GSK to support claims of corrupt payments in more than a dozen health centres where there was no evidence of patient education.
In response, GSK told Panorama that a training programme to help improve diagnostic standards and medical training in respiratory disease was run by doctors in Poland from 2010 to 2012. In a statement the company stated that sessions were delivered "by specialist healthcare professionals who, based on contracts signed with GSK, received payments appropriate to the scope of work as well as their level of knowledge and experience. The provision of sessions under this programme was agreed with the Polish healthcare centres".
After learning of the Panorama allegations, GSK says it has investigated the matter, "using resources from both inside and outside the company. The investigation found evidence of inappropriate communication in contravention of GSK policy by a single employee".
The company went on to state that the employee concerned "was reprimanded and disciplined as a result", adding that "we continue to investigate these matters and are co-operating fully with the CBA [Poland's Central Anticorruption Office]".
The allegations are a further embarrassment for GSK, given that the company has trumpeted changes it was making regarding promotional payments to doctors incentive schemes for its reps in the wake of a well-publicised corruption scandal in China involving alleged payments of around £300 million funnelled through travel agencies.
UPDATE: GSK has issued a statement adding that “we agree there is a need to modernise interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals to ensure patients’ interests are always put first and to eliminate even a perception of a conflict of interest.
"This is why we have made, and will continue to make, fundamental changes to our business such as opening up access to our clinical trial data, changing how we pay our sales representatives and stopping payments to healthcare professionals for speaking engagements and for attendance at medical conferences.”