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GPs in cash-strapped Cambridgeshire PCT asked to get consent for meeting sponsorship

PCT curbs GPs' pharma links

By Helen Crump

GPs in one of the most cash-strapped PCTs are being asked to severely limit their links with pharmaceutical companies.

The rules set down by Cambridgeshire PCT ask GP principals to get managers' consent before allowing sponsorship of meetings by drug companies.

The measures follow the

imposition of strict prescribing guidelines on GPs, including

a ban on all new drugs (News,

11 January).

GPs and other staff directly employed by the trust, which is forecasting a £37m year-end deficit, are bound by the new rules, with independent contractors asked to abide by it.

GPs predicted pressure to minimise pharmaceutical company influence would increase as PCTs sought to further curb prescribing spend.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority, an arm's-length organisation of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said it had been approached by other trusts about similar policies.

Dr Luke Twelves, a GP in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said practice-based commissioning consortiums had to be seen as 'cleaner than clean', particularly with increased rationing of drugs.

Dr Twelves, who is chair of the HuntsComm consortium strategic committee, said: 'It will be far more open in the future – there's a genuine concern from the public that their money is being spent properly.

'If the drug companies didn't think hospitality was worthwhile, they wouldn't do it.'

Dr Twelves said HuntsComm got funding for meetings from the PCT, but consortiums whose trust asked them to move away from commercial sponsorship without providing funding would be entitled to ask how they were supposed to pay for them.

Dr Guy Watkins, chief executive of Cambridgeshire LMC, said the PCT's measures would help to stop GPs becoming vulnerable to allegations that they had a conflict of interest.

Niamh McMahon of The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority said it already operated a strict code of conduct. She added: 'Our code is comprehensive, but we don't have a problem with trusts developing additional guidelines.'

The curbs on links with pharma

• Hospitality 'is not the norm' and should only be provided where necessary and justifiable

• Hospitality of more than £25 should be for the benefit of the PCT and must be recorded in a register

• Line manager approvals required for one-off or short-term sponsorship

• A partnership agreement should be drafted for longer term commercial partnerships

Source: Cambridgeshire PCT

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