Doctors are baffled by a government suggestion to amend the code of conduct for allowing pharma companies to sponsor medical education

Doctors have questioned the stand taken by the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers’ Department of Pharmaceuticals which is now proposing an amendment to the code of conduct for doctors and professional association of doctors by allowing pharmaceutical companies to sponsor their continuing medical education.

As per information received through a Right to Information (RTI) reply by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, “the Department, late last year, had written to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare asking them to consider the proposed change to ensure that doctors stayed in tune with all medical advancements,” said social activist Dr. K.V. Babu, who had filed the RTI.

The letter issued by the Ministry, obtained under RTI, states that it is in the process of finalising a uniform code of pharmaceuticals marketing practices to be adopted by the pharmaceutical industry.

“In this regard, discussions were held with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry association where special attention was drawn towards clause number 6.8 of Medical Council of India notification dated December 10, 2009, regarding Code of Conduct for doctors and professional association of doctors in their relationship with pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry,” states the correspondence.

What is worrying the doctors is what follows in the letter, says Dr. Babu. The letter goes on to state that during the deliberations, “the industry impressed upon the fact that in the present healthcare scenario in the country, continued medical education is an important and essential factor in the professional growth of a medical practitioner. Professionally and ethically conducted continued medical education programmes sponsored by pharmaceutical industry or medical associations could also eventually benefit the patients. The existing MCI Code, however, prohibits sponsorship of medical practitioners to such conference.”

“The Ministry has then attached their proposal and states that they hope to meet with the MCI for deliberations and possible amendments. We don’t understand that when doctors don’t seem to have a problem with the ‘revised’ code of ethics, why is the Ministry speaking about an amendment which seems to have clearly been backed by the pharmaceutical companies? If this is accepted by the MCI, it will be a U-turn on earlier decision taken in 2009. It will only promote the pharma-doctor nexus which will not benefit the patient in any manner,” said Dr. Babu.