Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Investigation

The pharma deals that CCGs fail to declare

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 04 January 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:j5915

Re: The pharma deals that CCGs fail to declare

I am disappointed to read a BMJ article that inaccurately depicts the work of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK.

Even more concerning is that the press release sent out by the BMJ to publicise the article was grossly misleading in its portrayal of the facts, leading respected national media to wrongly claim this research showed, ‘Pharmaceutical giants have bought tickets to sports matches and pop concerts’. Yet the BMJ must have known that these were from a catering company, a property company and a University – a point not made clear in their press release. Sadly, this is how fake news gets created.

The BMJ also knows that our Code of Practice prohibits the provision of gifts by industry*. Yet this article talks about the ‘pharmaceutical gift cycle’ with no references, leading us to conclude that this an outdated perception.

The ABPI Code reflects and extends beyond UK and European law. It sets very clear guidelines on appropriate interactions and collaborations between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare organisations and health professionals. There are also stringent rules governing the types of sponsorship for events, meetings and training** a fact that the BMJ reporting fails to acknowledge.

The research should draw a clearer distinction between the pharmaceutical industry, and the actions of other private sector companies, and public sector institutions such as Universities. Currently, this reporting conflates the two, which is unhelpful.

The BMJ could – and should – have broadened the article to take into account the current environment in which all stakeholders in the health system are working together to improve transparency for the benefit of patients.

In recent years we have seen the development of Disclosure UK ***, the pharmaceutical industry’s disclosure database; the strengthening of NHS England guidance on conflicts of interest, and the refreshing of guidance from multiple professional bodies, including the General Medical Council, and Royal Colleges to support increased openness and transparency. I hope that when the full findings of this research is published all of these initiatives are taken in to account.

According to this article three quarters of funding received from the pharmaceutical industry was for education and training events, and it clear that the authors of this research philosophically disagree with this type of funding, and are trying to marshal arguments to support their point of view.

There is a discussion to be had, and I know that the BMJ will be keen to ensure that this is held without the distraction of misleading evidence.

For many doctors, nurses and other NHS employees, continuing medical education may not be possible without industry support, a point acknowledged by some of the CCGs questioned. Is strictly regulated support for continuing professional development better than limited learning opportunities for NHS staff? Secondly, we are going through an exciting period of significant technological advances, and we believe that strictly regulated scientific dialogue is a critical responsibility we have, to impart our insight and expertise to help NHS clinicians make the most of these advances for their patients. This is the right discussion to be had.

The industry has come a very long way over the last decade and we welcome debate and challenge. It is through this that we continually evolve how we operate, so we can stay in step with the expectations of all our stakeholders and society more broadly.

As part of this we hold ourselves to account. Any concerns about the conduct of a pharmaceutical company should be brought to the attention of the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA)****.

It also means that we need to respond when we see testimony that we believe to be unfair and inaccurate. I hope that this response is understood in this context.


* Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2016, Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

** Clause 22, page 31, Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2016, Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.


**** Clause 18, page 26, Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2016, Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

Competing interests: No competing interests

05 January 2018
Mike Thompson
Chief Executive
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
7th Floor, Southside, 105 Victoria Street