Why ABPI Code cases matter


The UK pharmaceutical industry and healthcare sector is pretty active when voicing their opinions about medicine advertising and activities.  In 2020 there were 120+ cases of alleged breaches and in 2021 we are already waiting for 50+ to be assessed and published.  Then with a new 2021 Code, the year is guaranteed to be busy.

Importance of the cases

If you’re a reviewer or signatory and really want to have good knowledge, the Code is not just about ‘the book’ and the 100+ guidance documents (but that will keep you busy for starters).  Keeping up to date with the Code cases is vital.  Cases give an insight into the Code mindset, show how the Code is interpreted and importantly set immediate case precedence for future activities.

For example there is no specific guidance about the use of social media in the Code, just principles to interpret, but the plethora of social media cases give very clear examples of what you can and can’t do and how you need to shape your company policies to prevent future breaches.  As a foodie, I love hospitality Code breaches.  But the PMCPA were not impressed when one company breached the Code for having frozen yogurt on their exhibition stand and then another company did the same some months later.  They made it clear that companies should be reading and acting on the outcomes of cases.

Are you Marmite or a resolutionist?

But here is the real challenge.  Finding time to read all the cases.  They vary in complexity and admittedly I sometimes find those 60 page tomes heavy going and outwardly groan when I open the PDF.  But don’t worry, we can help you unpick the cases into a summary with learning points.

Now Code cases are a bit like marmite, dividing the nation. If you’re expected to read the cases, are you a Code case love it or hate it type of person?  Some (like me) love the excitement of a new Code case – the learning points, the discussions around ‘have you read what they did’ or ‘that was a bit harsh’.  But others struggle with the detail or simply don’t have time.

Then we mustn’t forget the New Year’s resolutionists – all good intentions (like a gym membership) but never quite make it past the first few months.  Then the cases pile up and so it just goes on the list for 2022 or 2023.

How can we help?

We have an annual Code update subscription service.  We run an online 45 minute session every month summarising the Code cases and key points.  Anyone from your affiliate can join and a  handout, highlights video and session recordings mean you won’t miss out if you can’t make the live session.  The sessions also act as Code forums to discuss hot topics.  We aim to keep you up to date, save you some reading time and flag which cases you need to deep dive into.

Code case learnings

Finally here are four recent Code case learnings from previous sessions.

  1. Cases shape your policies.  A case commented that a global social media policy was not sufficient and companies should have a local UK social media policy.
  2. Cases shape your training.  A breach using Instagram showed a company had not specifically trained staff on this platform which triggered internal training and documentation.
  3. Cases trigger timely policy updates.  A company was criticised for having a number of critical policies pending review.  Make sure policies don’t expire.
  4. Cases shape your partnerships.  Pharma companies are responsible for third parties and so agencies should be Code trained as well.  Ensure your contracts and agreements are up to date.

You are welcome to read more about our Code case subscription, eLearning courses and Code training.  If you’d like to try a free Code update session, we can arrange this too.

Written:  13 January 2021