Statement from Elizabeth de Somer, CEO of Medicines Australia on transparency reporting through the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct

Engagement with pharmaceutical companies is an important and legitimate part of a medical practitioner’s ongoing education; foremost, because patients want to be sure that their doctors know how to use the medicines they’re being prescribed.

The developers of these medicines are the highest authority on how a medicine works, its interactions with other compounds, its efficacy other information that would be important to the health outcomes of a patient. It stands to reason that a medical practitioner would consider information from the maker of the medicine when making an informed decision about prescribing a medicine.

When these interactions take place, we provide clear information about payments or other support provided to healthcare professionals through our ACCC authorised Code of Conduct.

Medicines Australia members are proud of their Code of Conduct. It is robust and has been in operation for almost 60 years. The Code of Conduct is the Australian benchmark for accountability and transparency reporting in the therapeutic goods sector. This is the same standard that pharmaceutical companies are held to in Europe, and significantly more detailed than industry self-regulation in the USA.

A change in edition 18 of the code altered the way meals and beverages offered to healthcare practitioners was reported. This was done as a reflection of the minor nature of these contributions, and the extra administrative burden this placed on both pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals. This may account for the decline in reporting so judiciously highlighted in the latest Sydney University churn of our transparency data – although it’s worth noting, that the research referenced is over a year old, and does not outline their methodology.

Instead, 18th Edition of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct clearly states:

Any meals or beverages offered by companies to healthcare professionals must be secondary to the educational content. Meals and beverages must be appropriate for the educational content and duration of the meeting and should not be excessive.

The maximum cost of a meal (including beverages) provided by a company to a healthcare professional within Australia must not exceed $120 (excluding GST and gratuities).

This maximum would only be appropriate in exceptional circumstances, such as a dinner at a learned society conference with substantial educational content. In the majority of circumstances, the cost of a meal (including beverages) should be well below this figure.

For hospitality in association with overseas educational meetings this maximum and/or local guidelines should be used as a guide.

It’s ludicrous to suggest that a modest lunch would sway the opinions of medical practitioners – whether it’s captured under our code or not. Suggestions like the one published in today in the BMJ do nothing but undermine a patient’s confidence in a robust and accountable system, seek to break the trust that is fundamental to all those involved in delivering medicines to patients, and insult the judgement of healthcare professionals.

Moreover, when a doctor is working a 12 hour day, and uses their six minute lunchbreak to inform themselves of the latest developments in medicines, it seems appropriate that they be given a sandwich.

Medicines Australia is currently undertaking an important review of our Code of Conduct. This new revised Code is more principles-based, reflects an evolution in the way our businesses and the people we interact with, and is being developed with the knowledge and support of our important stakeholders such as those within the medical fields.