Abbott Laboratories has been stripped of its membership to the UK’s Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry for a six-month period after failing to abide by its voluntary Code of Practice.

The move will help the ABPI face long-standing accusations that its Code, a new version of which came into force at the beginning of the year, has no teeth. Critics have argued that it is fundamentally weak, with expulsion from the ABPI’s membership being the ultimate sanction. However, the ABPI and its proponents have argued that, with the pharmaceutical industry struggling to gain a better reputation, ‘naming and shaming’ is the most effective sanction available to it. Andrew Hotchkiss, Managing Director of Lilly UK and Chair of the ABPI’s Code of Practice Review Working Group, has previously told PharmaTimes: “At the end of the day, any company can pay a fine – whether it is £100 or £10,000 – but more valuable is the company’s reputation.”

The breaches by Abbott relate to inappropriate hospitality for healthcare professionals at meetings that took place in 2004, with the complaint being made anonymously the following year. Although the ABPI acknowledges that Abbott has taken steps to address the problems, including dismissing three employees concerned and conducting a major review of its procedures, Vincent Lawton, President of the ABPI, said: “The breaches that have been identified are viewed in a very serious light, and this is reflected in the suspension – a sanction that we have not needed to apply for many years.”

Inappropriate hospitality for healthcare professionals has been targeted in the new Code; doctors will now have to fly economy to medical meetings and restrictions have been placed on venue selection by pharmaceutical companies. "It has to be education that attracts doctors to attend," the ABPI's Director-General, Richard Barker, stressed in unveiling the new Code last November.

Suspensions from the ABPI are rare, but not unprecedented - it has happened three other times in the past 25 years. In 1986 - Bayer was suspended in relation to unofficial assessments of a product organised by medical sales representatives. In 1994, Duphar was suspended for using specialised computer equipment and training as inducements for sales promotion and, in 1994, Fisons was suspended for inducements to prescribe and provision of unacceptable hospitality.

In a statement, Abbott said: "Abbott requires its employees to abide by the company's high standards outlined in its Code of Practice. The company's Office of Ethics and Compliance conducts a prompt and thorough investigation into all allegations of inappropriate activity or behavior.  The Company has a zero tolerance policy for behaviors that breach the company's Code of Conduct. Sanctions are taken, including termination, if violations are found. The allegations made during this case relate to the individual actions of a small number of employees in 2004.  Abbott conducted a thorough investigation and as a result, these employees either resigned or had their employment terminated."