Oz Pharmaceutical companies spends $30m wining, dining doctors
DRUG companies are spending $30 million a year wining and dining doctors and healthcare workers, and are subsidising nurse wages in some GP clinics.
Australia's $22 billion pharmaceutical industry is sponsoring nurses to work free in doctors' surgeries as "diabetes educators", and to show asthmatics how to use their inhalers.
Medicines Australia chief executive Brendan Shaw said yesterday the industry's code of conduct allowed "support for medical practice activities".
He said companies often recruited and trained the nurses, who then worked for free or for subsidised wages at GP clinics.
"There cannot be any interference with the independence of the doctors' care of their patients," he said. "There must not be any incentive to doctors to prescribe a company's product."
Medicines Australia revealed yesterday that its members spent $29.4m on "hospitality" for medical professionals in the year to March. The industry code bans them from providing "entertainment" for healthcare workers but allows hospitality at "educational events".
A register of events sponsored by 37 companies, at a total cost of $23.7m in the six months to March, shows that half the money was spent on hospitality for 385,871 health professionals.
Sanofi-Aventis spent $54,348 on a weekend training session for 80 neurologists at the Rendevous Hotel in Melbourne - including $24,683 on flights, $15,480 on hotel rooms and $13,184 on meals.
Pfizer spent $192,924 hosting 104 GPs for a weekend meeting at the five-star Sofitel Hotel on the Gold Coast.
A one-day meeting at the luxurious Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne for 113 anaesthetists and pain and rehabilitation specialists cost $265,945 - including $101,719 on hospitality.
And Pfizer's one-day meeting of 221 GPs at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney cost $614,962 - including $56,736 for hotel rooms and $48,316 for flights.
Drug companies also paid hospitals and clinics to organise their own training sessions: St Andrew's War Memorial Hospital received $7272 from Pfizer to send 100 GPs to the Hyatt Sanctuary Cove luxury resort on the Gold Coast for a meeting on "mental health presentation".
And nine oncologists drank $560 worth of beverages at a meeting lasting 90 minutes at the Iceworks Lounge in Brisbane, paid for by Sanofi-Aventis.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said yesterday doctors should be cynical about accepting hospitality or nursing staff from drug companies.
"I've heard of nurses who will come along to your practice to find patients with diabetes, with a view to try to see if there is optimal therapy," he said. "I haven't used them, for the express purpose that their ultimate aim in life is to get the dose of whatever is prescribed (increased). That is a conflict of interest."