Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tales from the PMCPA contd... the case of the volcanic vodka shots

AUTH/2509/6/12 - Anonymous v Roche - PMCPA

Case number:AUTH/2509/6/12

Case ref:Anonymous v Roche

Description:Conduct of employees

No breach:No breaches Clauses 2 and 19.1

Breach:Breach Clause 9.1

Appeal:Appeal by respondent

Review:To be published in the May 2013 Review



An anonymous and uncontactable complainant alleged that employees of Roche Products had behaved inappropriately whilst attending an overseas medical conference in 2012.

The complainant stated that it seemed that Roche had lost touch with good ethics of late and had brought the industry into disrepute.

The complainant alleged that on the Saturday evening of the conference he witnessed first hand hospitality to an excess that he had rarely seen since his days as a house doctor. Whilst enjoying late night drinks at a traditional nightspot the complainant stated that he watched as two very senior Roche personnel supplied round after round of shot drinks to their delegation of doctors. He alleged that vodka shots and shots of varying colours flowed like hot lava, unstoppably. Further that two named Roche employees revelled way after midnight with a large group of customers. The group swelled in size as others joined and the party was raucous. In the complainant’s view this was not good for doctors who were at a scientific meeting to be educated, nor was it good for the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry.

The complainant alleged that unfortunately one employee, who was known in the relevant medical community, proceeded to jump onto the stage drunk and that in a gesture of defiance he made a buffoon of himself by being physically evicted by door staff. The complainant considered this unacceptable behaviour outside of a scientific meeting.

The complainant expected that if the Authority examined the expense receipts/credit card statements of the two named employees, it would be surprised at the excessive levels of alcohol purchased and the time of purchase. The two Roche employees had on this occasion been lacking in their personal codes of conduct.

The detailed response from Roche is given below.

The Panel noted the seniority and responsibilities of the two named employees. According to Roche, both had attended a Roche hosted dinner on the Saturday evening and were amongst the last to leave the restaurant at about 11.30-11.45pm. They went to a bar for a drink and ‘some down time away from customers’. Nine of the sixteen Roche personnel who attended the meal, including the named employees, went to the bar. The Panel questioned the choice of venue, given Roche’s submission that it was a party bar that on a Saturday night when a congress was in town would be packed and very noisy. The Panel considered that the two named Roche employees would have known that it was likely that UK health professionals attending the meeting would also be at the bar and this, according to Roche, proved to be so including at least one UK health professional who was a Roche delegate. Roche submitted, however, that there was no discussion between Roche personnel and health professionals attending the meal about which venue to visit afterwards. The Panel further noted Roche’s submission that its staff did not go to the bar with any health professionals nor did they arrange to meet any there.

The Panel noted that the parties’ accounts about hospitality and Roche personnel at the bar differed; it was difficult in such circumstances to determine precisely what had transpired. The Panel noted Roche’s submission that the two named employees met with two Roche colleagues and others at the bar. There were some UK health professionals there and the Roche group talked to health professionals that they knew but did not buy them any drinks. The complainant referred to ‘two very senior Roche personnel’ supplying ‘round after round’ of shot drinks to customers. It was unclear whether this was a reference to the named employees, who were only referred to by the complainant subsequently, or other Roche personnel. Whilst bar receipts had been provided by Roche, these were not for ‘shots’ and the Panel had no evidence to indicate who had consumed the drinks in question. The complainant had the burden of proving his/her complaint on the balance of probabilities.

The Panel noted Roche’s submission that it had not provided any hospitality to UK health professionals at the bar, it had not invited any to attend the bar and had not bought drinks for any health professionals who were in the bar during the time Roche staff were there. Taking all the circumstances into account, the Panel considered that the complainant had not established that Roche had provided any hospitality to UK health professionals as alleged and thus ruled no breach of the Code.

The Panel noted from the document ‘Compliance & International Congress’ provided by Roche that it considered congresses to be ‘a highly visible activity’ that required ‘independent responsibility and accountability’. Roche employees were instructed to focus on business objectives, strengthen customer relationships and develop knowledge and understanding. The document referred to Roche’s hospitality and subsistence policy and stated that, to ensure Roche business objectives were met, staff should not remain in the bar with customers later than 11.30pm-midnight, after which time Roche attendees should withdraw from the bar. If health professionals decided to continue drinking they must pay for themselves and Roche staff must not be present (even for only soft drinks).

The Panel noted that the two named employees had arrived at the bar at approximately 12.10am. The arrival time of other Roche personnel was not known, nor did the Panel have details about the amount of alcohol consumed previously at the restaurant. The named employees bought three rounds of alcoholic drinks, the last being purchased at 1.13am. One of the named employees had joined a group dancing on the stage of the venue, had been escorted from the venue and was not allowed back into the bar to retrieve his jacket. According to Roche a UK health professional who was also a Roche delegate remonstrated with bar staff on the Roche employee’s behalf and was asked by the employee to retrieve his jacket. The employee was back at his hotel room by 1.40am. The second more senior employee had provided him with his jacket, then returned to the bar for a further 30 minutes before going back to the hotel, arriving there at around 2.15am.

The Panel noted that the provision of hospitality and other interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and health professionals outside the formal congress proceedings at international congresses was a subject that attracted much public scrutiny and criticism. Companies should be mindful of the impression given by such interactions and ensure that when applicable such activity complied with the UK Code. Other codes might also be relevant. The Panel was very concerned about the behaviour of Roche employees at a social venue at which they knew UK health professionals were in attendance. The Panel noted its comments above about the choice of venue and the likelihood of congress delegates being in attendance. The Panel considered that it was understandable that company employees would want to wind down away from health professionals at the end of a full day at congress. However, Roche employees were in the conference city as representatives of their company for business reasons and as such they should continue to be mindful of the impression created by behaviour beyond the conference and any associated subsistence/meetings. This was particularly important when interacting with UK health professionals and especially so in a late-night social environment. The Panel noted Roche’s submission that its employees were aware of the need not to behave in such a way that gave the wrong impression.

The Panel noted that the parties’ accounts were similar in some respects. Given that the two named Roche employees knew that UK health professionals were at the bar and had spoken to them, the Panel questioned Roche’s submission that the behaviour of the Roche employee’s was appropriate. The Panel considered that once the Roche employees knew that UK health professionals were at the bar they should have been mindful of the impression created by any interaction with them and the public nature of their behaviour. The Panel queried whether a shared social environment, particularly in the early hours of the morning, could ever be appropriate. The impression given by a senior member of Roche’s staff being escorted off the premises at around 1am for whatever reason whilst attending a business event was most unfortunate, particularly given general criticism about interactions between health professionals and pharmaceutical companies noted above. The Panel noted its ruling above of no breach of the Code. Nonetheless, the Panel considered that the behaviour displayed in the presence of UK health professionals amounted to a failure to maintain high standards and ruled a breach of the Code. This ruling was appealed by Roche.

The Panel was concerned that Roche had not considered its senior employees’ behaviour inappropriate. However, taking all the circumstances in to account, the Panel did not consider that a breach of Clause 2, a sign of particular censure, was warranted and no breach of that clause was ruled.

The Appeal Board noted that the Roche employees had attended a dinner at a local restaurant organised for its UK customers attending the conference. At the appeal hearing Roche submitted that at the end of the dinner the employees had taken a taxi to the bar in question; no UK health professionals from the dinner accompanied them. The employees subsequently purchased several rounds of drinks using company credit cards. The Appeal Board expressed surprise at the number, frequency and timing of drinks purchased. The Appeal Board noted that the bar in question could be described as a lively, loud, party bar.

The Appeal Board noted from Roche that its employees had briefly spoken with UK health professionals at the bar and so they were aware of their presence. There was, however, no evidence that the Roche employees had invited UK health professionals or that they had bought UK health professionals any drinks.

The Appeal Board noted that shortly after dancing on the stage, the senior manager was escorted from the premises and not allowed back in. The Appeal Board noted from Roche that a UK health professional who was also a Roche delegate at the conference witnessed this and ‘remonstrated with the staff that the senior manager had done nothing wrong’. The UK health professional agreed to retrieve the employee’s jacket from the bar and it was subsequently brought out by the more senior Roche employee.

The Appeal Board considered that the issue was not that pharmaceutical company employees and UK health professionals were present in the bar at the same time per se. Whether this was acceptable would always depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The Appeal Board noted its comments about some aspects of the employees’ conduct. Company employees needed to be mindful of the impression created by their behaviour whenever they were on company business. In the Appeal Board’s view, employees attending conferences were representing their company for the whole time that they were at the conference. The Appeal Board was particularly concerned about the removal of one employee from the premises who had not been allowed to retrieve his own belongings and the impression created which it considered was unacceptable. The circumstances amounted to a failure to maintain high standards. The Appeal Board upheld the Panel’s ruling of a breach of the Code. The appeal was thus unsuccessful.

No comments: