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GlaxoSmithKline tried to bribe GPs to persuade them to use one of its drugs, a regulatory panel has ruled.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry found GSK in breach of its code of practice after offering 'a pecuniary advantage' to GPs to switch asthma patients to Seretide.
The ruling came just a week after the Government's drug regulator upheld a complaint against Wyeth for 'openly questioning' its safety advice.
GPs said the rulings demonstrated the pressure they were under from drug companies. They said MPs had been unfair to criticise them last week for being unduly influenced.
The ABPI received complaints from two GPs after GSK offered to sponsor practices £15 an hour for the cost of the switch or pay a third party to carry out the work.
A GSK information sheet on its Airways Integrated Management Service claimed the free switching and subsequent reductions in prescribing costs would save the typical practice £9,789.
The ABPI found the offer 'amounted to a pecuniary advantage given as an inducement to prescribe Seretide' and ruled that 'high standards had not been maintained'.
GSK said it accepted the judgments and took such matters 'extremely seriously'.
A spokesperson said the company would take immediate action where it had been found in breach of the code.
Dr Des Spence, one of the complainants and a GP in Glasgow, said: 'The whole issue of switching goes against patient interests'. He called for the ABPI code to be clarified on the issue.
Dr Jim Kennedy, RCGP prescribing spokesperson, agreed. 'Switching schemes need to be examined very critically,' he said. 'I would advise any GP considering it to discuss it with their PEC colleagues and local prescribing adviser.'
But Dr Spence, who is UK spokesperson for pressure group No Free Lunch, insisted the Commons Health Select Committee had been unfair to blame GPs for inappropriate prescribing.
'You can't blame the doctors,' he said. 'The industry is to blame. Doctors are under enormous commercial pressure.'
By Nerys Hairon