The move to make pharma more transparent and build a positive reputation is the key theme to come out of the launch of the new ABPI Code of Practice during Code Awareness Week.

Set to come into force on 1 May, the new ABPI Code of Practice has been updated with a number of changes and a week of events have been organised to promote awareness of the Code and its changes, particularly in regards to industry’s evolving relationship with healthcare professionals and patient organisations.  

“We are in a time where stakeholders’ experiences of how we operate as an industry and our relationship with the NHS are more widely scrutinised and expectations have changed,” said Andy Powrie-Smith, director of trust and reputation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, during yesterday’s launch of Code Awareness Week.

“In the context of the increasing need for collaboration and the changing global environment, getting the relationship right with stakeholders is incredibly important – important not just for industry’s trust and reputation but for public and patient confidence,” he added.

The key changes to the Code include: banning of promotional aids such as mugs, diaries, pens and post-it notes; items can be provided to healthcare professionals to pass on to patients only if they are part of a formal patient support programme; the monetary value of financial support to patient organisations must be published for activities commenced on of after 1 May; from 2013 pharma companies must publish the previous year’s details about the total payments to health professionals and others for their services; from 2013 details of the previous year’s donations and grants to organisations must be made publicly available.

To encourage transparency and increase awareness of the Code to healthcare professionals, the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority has for the first time launched an e-learning module (available at, which is interactive and explains how the pharmaceutical industry can promote medicines to healthcare professionals. Key points from the Code covered in the e-learning module include the content of advertisements and arrangements for meetings. The module also includes an online assessment.

Going digital

Meanwhile, information on digital communications has not been included in the new Code, though informal guidance has been published by the PMCPA.

“This is a developing area and we decided to take the approach of issuing informal guidance and then look at what we can put in as time goes by,” said PMCPA director Heather Simmonds. 

According to the guidance, “companies can use any method of communicating to any audience provided relevant requirements of the Code are followed… Pharmaceutical companies want, and indeed should be able to use digital media. However, unlike other industries that can promote their products to all, pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from promoting prescription only medicines to the public. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies need to identify ways of utilising digital communications while complying with this restriction.”

The guidance recommends starting digital communications by deciding which clauses in the Code are relevant, identifying the audience, and considering whether the material will be proactively distributed or reactively available. It provides a response to 12 frequently asked questions as informal guidelines to help companies make the first steps when going digital.

Simmonds added that with the EU Directive on information to patients possibly changing the European landscape it made sens6e to provide information on digital communications as informal guidance in the first instance.

The guidance can be accessed on the PMCPA website or at