GSK S'pore to end payments to docts too

SINGAPORE - By January 2016, drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will stop paying medical professionals here to promote its products, in a move that is a first for the drugs industry.

But it will continue to pay them for their services in clinical studies, advisory activities and market research, GSK Singapore told The Straits Times on Wednesday.

Its action follows an announcement by the British drug giant on Tuesday in London, saying it will no longer pay doctors to promote its products at events or set individual sales targets for its staff.

The company's Singapore spokesman said it will consult health-care professionals on the changes over the next two years.

Medical professionals do not foresee a major impact in Singapore as existing industry regulations bar drug firms from freely paying doctors for their services.

They also cannot pay doctors for time spent attending overseas medical conferences or similar events, or sponsor them for such trips in return for prescribing, buying or promoting any pharmaceutical product. Doctors must also declare any conflict of interest.

The rules are "very strict", doctors told The Straits Times, adding that they rarely see unethical practices.

Gastroenterologist Desmond Wai, who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said most drug firms are wary of being accused of giving perks to doctors.

Public hospitals also have policies that restrict the extent to which staff may receive external sponsorship. At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, drug firms cannot directly approach staff to make such offers, said a hospital spokesman.

Staff are also prevented from "directly soliciting for sponsorships", and from attending events that focus on promoting specific drugs or products, she added.

Associate Professor Quek Swee Chye, acting chairman of National University Hospital's medical board, said doctors have to obtain approval before they can give lectures and talks, do drug evaluations or consulting work.

"Doctors also have to make a declaration if there is funding involved and if there is potential conflict of interest," he added.

The Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries, which sets the code of practice for drug firms here, states that economy class tickets should be offered for flights under six hours.

And doctors involved in events sponsored by drug firms must not appear to endorse any products, according to the ethical code of the Singapore Medical Council.

Medical oncologist Wong Seng Weng said he speaks at several overseas conferences a year and usually travels economy class. He gets a "small honorarium" of about $1,000 each time.

"In terms of opportunity cost, it is actually not worth the time spent," said Dr Wong, who runs practices at Paragon Medical and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

"But I find it meaningful to disseminate information to colleagues to improve the care of patients," he added.

GSK Singapore hopes its move can "increase confidence among wider stakeholders that we always put patients' interests first".

As Dr Wai noted: "If you have the best drug on the market, you don't need to pay doctors to get people to use them."

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