Doctors sometimes ask the MDU how they can ensure that any gifts or sponsorship offered by pharmaceutical companies do not influence their decision making.
You have a professional and ethical duty to prescribe drugs and recommend treatments based on your judgment of a patient's clinical needs and the effectiveness of the treatment.
The GMC states in Good Medical Practice, 2006, paragraph 74 'you must not ask for or accept any inducement, gift or hospitality which may affect or be seen to affect the way you prescribe for, treat, or refer patients.'
In February this year a Royal College of Physicians (RCP) review Innovating for health: Patients, physicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS went so far as to recommend an end to drug companies offering doctors free gifts, hotel stays, meals and other inducements of any value.
The report says that ending the practice of giving gifts to doctors and their support staff would 'do much to rebalance the relationship between medicine and the (pharmaceutical) industry to one based on equality and mutual respect'.
The pharmaceutical industry has a role to play in ensuring that doctors are kept informed about the latest advances in medicines and the effective management of illness.
While these relationships may be beneficial to both parties, doctors and their staff must be able to demonstrate that their clinical decision-making is not influenced by pharmaceutical companies. If you have specific queries about gifts, you should contact your medical defence organisation for advice.
Use the checklist below to improve your awareness of the further legal, professional and contractual responsibilities that apply to doctors.
- Dr Emma Cuzner is a medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, www.the-mdu.com
- Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry www.abpi.org.uk
- General Medical Council www.gmc-uk.org