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Getting stuck in

Some things are useless: a chocolate tea pot. Not that I have ever seen one, but if it did exist it would be useless

The ABPI has put its foot down in an attempt to tell pharma that the party's over

Some things are useless: a chocolate tea pot. Not that I have ever seen one, but if it did exist it would be useless. Sunblinds on a submarine perhaps? The Football Association's human resources policy also springs to mind. How about dehydrated water? The phone-less cord?

Then again, the painter and poet Francis Picabia once that said: Only useless things are indispensable. I'm not sure I understand that and I'm tempted to file it under 'useless quotes'.

I'm also very tempted to file the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) under terminally useless.

I have never seen the point of self-regulation. For me, the whole idea of a bunch of good-ol'-boys gathering in a smoke-filled room to sort out another bunch of good-ol'-boys smacks of, well, let's be kind - a waste of time.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has the same problem. Doctors sorting out doctors - except that they don't. The Bar Council must be having a laugh - at our expense. Policemen investigating policemen? I just don't get it.

Why in this world of transparency and openness, the internet and the Freedom of Information Act, anyone would even think of self-regulation is beyond me.

But they do and they make it even more annoying by pretending that they are transparent and open, and taking the views of all stakeholders onboard - stakeholders, there's a useless word if ever there was one!

It is pointless to try and explain to these people how stupid they make themselves look. The ABPI is a past master.

It has suspended Abbott Laboratories from membership of the ABPI for a minimum of six months. I bet the Board of Abbott are sending out for more Kleenex as I write.

They must be beside themselves with grief and wrath. They will be thrashing themselves, crawling on their bellies, begging for forgiveness. They must be redefining bereavement. Or, not.

Who cares?
Firstly, I doubt that anyone outside the perfumed circle of big pharma has a clue what the ABPI is, does, makes, says or stands for.

Secondly, being excommunicated from the ABPI is a monstrous irrelevance. Nobody cares. Nobody gives a monkey's.

The other pharma companies will pretend it is important. They will point the finger of scorn and whisper shame, but that is all part of the charade. A pretence that the ABPI is important. The pantomime of self delusion that is self-regulation. They want the ABPI to look important because the alternative is an outside regulator, with big boots, digging up the rose patch.

What foul sin has Abbott committed? Has it poisoned a patient? Has it shipped the wrong pills in the wrong package? Has it maimed a child, killed an old lady? Been unkind to a laboratory mouse?

No, none of that.
Its sin is much more heinous. It is an indescribable misdeed; a transgression that defies belief. Brace yourself, here it is: someone paid too much for entertainment.

Yes, can you believe it? Too much for lunch! Apparently in a moment of madness they provided 'inappropriate hospitality for health professionals'.

Now, we all know health professionals live in canteens on a diet of lumpy custard and congealed gravy. Abbott found it impossible to recreate hospital fare and paid the ultimate price. It is out of the perfumed circle for six months - hard to swallow, eh?

Bear in mind that thanks to the new General Medical Services Contract, the average GP is earning well over £100,000 and most consultants can earn even more than that.

It strikes me that it is difficult to know where you could book lunch that would be posh enough; or 'appropriate' to use ABPI-speak. For a novelty, I guess they could have tried Joe's CafÈ on Mile End Road - but there's no place to do the PowerPoint thing.

Eye witness
Who witnessed this felony? What brave soul stepped forward, risked all and blew the whistle on Luncheon-Gate?

We will never know. The complaint was anonymous. A supergrass, no doubt smuggled out of the country to start a new life with a new identity, paid off with a handful of luncheon-vouchers. At a guess, I would say that they would be easy to find. They were the one not invited to lunch!

We all know justice, indeed retribution, is better meted out swiftly. So, when did this crime take place? The ABPI website says these crimes or, 'activities [all] took place in 2004, with the complaint being made the following year'. To save you reaching for your diary, it's taken about a year for the lithe, sinuous, agile, nimble ABPI's super-sleuth department to swing into action.

Is there a stronger word than 'useless' that I should be using? Ineffective, hopeless, a waste of time - futile perhaps?

There is more. The offences were committed and judged under the ABPI's old Code of Practice. It has a new one now, which doubtless extends to paying too much for a bacon butty and a tea - please bring your own sugar and milk.

The pharmaceutical industry strives to maintain the highest possible ethical standards in all its dealing with healthcare professionals. The breaches that have been identified are viewed in a very serious light, and this is reflected in the suspension - a sanction that we have not needed to apply for many years, said Vincent Lawton, President of the ABPI.

Thanks to Mr Lawton and his mates, children may sleep easy in their beds and all is right with the world.

What about the miscreants at Abbott? Well, I should have told you - Abbott was already aware of the problems before the complaint was made. When informed of the complaint, it had already undertaken a major investigation of events and review of its procedures, and three employees concerned had left the company.

Reading between the lines, it was ages ago, Abbott knew all about it and sorted it out, getting shot of the lunch-bunch.

The high ethical standards of the ABPI have been rescued from the jaws of lunch! What a relief.

Colette Goldrick, external affairs director, Pfizer UK
Neil Kendle, Managing director, Kendle Healthcare
Dr Richard W Barker MA, Director General, ABPI
The Author
Roy Lilley is a healthcare author and broadcaster

2nd September 2008

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