Family doctors are still being bombarded with promotional material and inducements from drug companies in spite of a toughened code of practice, according to the consumer organisation ‘Which?’. Survey results published today show that on average GPs get four visits a month from drug company representatives and five promotional mailings about new drugs every week.
In 2005 a House of Commons Select Committee called for increased regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, education for health professionals and drug safety measures and its recommendations fed into a revised code of practice from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry to restrict the promotion of drugs. ‘Which?’ interviewed 200 GPs shortly after the introduction of the new code in 2006 and has now repeated the survey to assess the code’s impact.
The latest results show one in four GPs was sponsored to attend a conference, seminar or training event in the UK in the last year and five per cent were sponsored to go to an event overseas. In a single month one doctor was offered nine conference places and 13 meals and had nine visits from drug company representatives, received ten letters, 21 leaflets, two patient information booklets and a training DVD. In all, 22 companies contacted her about 31 drugs.
Today’s report says lack of independent information is a problem and only seven per cent of the doctors in the survey said they trusted the information they received from drug companies as much as that from independent sources. Almost half said there were not enough sources of independent information. ‘Which?’ recognises that drug company funding can be a vital resource for patient groups, but found not all companies or patient groups were open about the extent of funding and how it was used.
Neil Fowler, the editor of ‘Which?’, said patients wanted to know that they had been prescribed the right drugs, not those produced by a company that spent a lot of money on promotion and inducements. “We want to see more sources of independent information on drugs so that GPs can make balanced decisions, more limits on the marketing of drugs, and transparency about funding,” he added.