UCPMP: Flouting with impunity

March 25, 2020 0 By FM

Despite growing demands from various corners for making the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) mandatory, the union government has issued yet another advisory asking pharmaceutical companies to follow UCPMP. Even five years after introducing the code, the central government is yet to make it mandatory. 

The Department of Pharmaceuticals, in a letter sent to various pharmaceutical associations, stated that it has received complaints that pharmaceutical companies arrange hotels, accommodation and local sight-seeing in conferences conducted by doctors. The department requested the associations to ensure that the companies adhere to the UCPMP. 

The Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH), a pan-India network of doctors standing for ethical and rational practice, had recently demanded that the government make UCPMP mandatory. ADEH, in its statement, said: “It is unfortunate that even after five years, the code remains voluntary. This is despite the fact that several medical organizations have repeatedly demanded it [to be made mandatory]. The global experience also shows that a voluntary code does not work.”

Accepting gifts – A punishable offence

Many organizations have for years been demanding to make UCPMP mandatory. But the government is still hesitant to do so. Under the statutory provisions of Indian Medical Council Act, a doctor’s degree can be suspended for six months if he or she is found to have accepted gifts. But the irony is that while doctors are bound to follow the provision, the pharmaceutical companies are given only advisories. The government should take urgent steps to make UCPMP mandatory,” said Dr Arun Gadre, Member, ADEH.

ADEH said in its statement that as per media reports, the prime minister has warned pharmaceutical companies not to indulge in unethical practices and to stop giving freebies to doctors with a purpose to procure business. However, pharmaceutical companies have denied that any such deliberations happened in the meeting with the prime minister. ADEH pointed out that the pharmaceutical companies spend crores of rupees through associations by sponsoring medical conferences. “They spend huge amounts on travel, accommodation and other expenditures on the doctors for lavish arrangements of the conferences,” said ADEH. 

Make CME funding legitimate: IMA 

Meanwhile, Dr R V Asokan, Secretary-General, Indian Medical Association (IMA), said: “Funding of conferences by pharmaceutical companies happens across the country. But what is happening right now is not acceptable and we don’t support it. Funding of conferences should be transparent and acknowledged. It can be done under the supervision of a government body.” 

He further said: “At present there is no fund for Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes. Some part of the money made by the pharmaceutical companies should help in knowledge dissemination. The funding of CME programmes should continue in a legitimate way.” 

He added that the pharmaceutical code should be made mandatory within reasonable limits. 

The association of doctors added that, as per clause 7.2 of the UCPMP, companies or their associations shall not extend any hospitality — like hotel accommodation — to healthcare practitioners and their family members under any pretext. The implied meaning of this is that even extending benefits to the doctors through association is unethical. But this is being flouted with impunity. MCI had amended The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002 in 2014 and exempted professional associations of doctors from the purview of medical ethics. ADEH also demanded that the amendment should be reversed urgently.     

Dr Arun Gadre, added: “It is common knowledge that all the conferences are sponsored indirectly by pharmaceutical companies. The hotel rooms are also booked by the pharmaceutical companies for the doctors. There are doctors who refuse to accept any gifts and spend money from their own pockets, but they are outnumbered. I wonder why doctors who are earning lakhs of rupees can’t spend from their own pocket.”