Members of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry have voted in amendments to the Code of Practice to increase the transparency of working practices between the industry and healthcare professionals.

From January 1st next year pharmaceutical companies will no longer be able to give healthcare workers any branded promotional items, such as pens and notepads, with only “inexpensive items” meant for use by patients under formal patient support programmes allowed under the new rules.

Also new in the Code, from 2013 companies will be required to declare payments (made in 2012) to healthcare professionals for services such as speaker fees, advisory boards and consultancy, and sponsorship for attendance at annual meetings, in order to secure greater clarity of such relationships and thereby maintain the industry’s reputation.

“It is both important and absolutely right that we have a professional and meaningful relationship with healthcare professionals – these changes ensure that this will continue to be done in a transparent and appropriate manner,” said ABPI President Simon Jose.

“We want to shift the debate to focus on how we can improve health outcomes for patients through science and innovation,” he stressed, and noted that the vote is “a strong symbolic indicator of change and a positive step towards increasing trust in industry as a partner in the healthcare system”.

The moves comes at a time of growing closeness between the healthcare sector and pharmaceutical industry, fueled by the realisation that ‘together we are stronger’ in achieving better treatment outcomes for patients, especially as funds are getting tighter.

Given its extensive knowledge on illnesses and innovative medicines, the pharmaceutical industry is sitting on a deep reservoir of expertise that could, through a variety of different locally tailored healthcare schemes, help the National Health Service boost patient care and treatment outcomes and better meet the growing demands on the health service.

Rise of QIPP

Under the rise of the government’s QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) agenda, joint working projects between pharma and the NHS have already celebrated successes to date. For example, East Lincolnshire Primary Care Trust’s work with three pharmaceutical firms resulted in lower rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the region, by identifying patients suspected to have the condition and treating them in special COPD clinics.

Still, the age-old wall of distrust of the pharmaceutical industry is proving slow to dismantle, and it is hoped that the new measures in the Code will help to inject an even greater degree of transparency into relationships between industry and the NHS.

“Many industry reputational surveys have highlighted more challenges in our relationship with healthcare professionals than in the wider public,” Andrew Powrie-Smith, Director of Trust at the ABPI, told PharmaTimes UK News online. “For the industry to move from simply being a supplier of medicines to a partner in the healthcare system this is a key area for industry and our partners to address”.

There has certainly been some progress, he noted, but added the vote by ABPI member companies to amend the ABPI Code of Practice to cease the provision of promotional aids and increase transparency in external relationships “are strong indicators that the industry is ready and willing to redefine the way it works with stakeholders”.