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In a nutshell... drug company gifts

The MDU's Dr Emma Cuzner explains the rules on pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and gifts.

The value of a gift must not exceed £6, excluding VAT
The value of a gift must not exceed £6, excluding VAT

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.

GMC guidance
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'.

Industry role
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


  • Know the law on accepting gifts. Under the Medicines (Advertising) Regulations 1994, doctors may be subject to summary conviction if they solicit or accept any gift, pecuniary advantage, benefit in kind, hospitality or sponsorship that is prohibited by the regulations.
  • GP practices are contractually obliged to keep a register on which you must declare any gift worth more than £100, including those from pharmaceutical companies. To avoid future criticism it may be prudent to include in the register any hospitality from pharmaceutical representatives.
  • The GMC expects doctors attending conferences and meetings sponsored by pharmaceutical firms to announce which organisation they are sponsored by and disclose this in all published papers related to the meeting. See its Conflicts of Interest, 2008, paragraph 18.
  • Familiarise yourself with the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice (2006). Clauses 18.1 and 18.2 place strict limits on pharmaceutical companies wishing to offer to doctors or their administrative staff any gift, benefit in kind or pecuniary advantage 'as an inducement to prescribe, supply, administer, recommend or buy or sell any medicine'.
  • The ABPI code limits the cost of gifts to £6, excluding VAT and advises that lavish venues must not be used for seminars and meetings.


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