GSK faces criminal charges of bribery in Poland

GlaxoSmithKline is under investigation in Poland for allegedly bribing doctors, and could face criminal charges.

A new investigation by the BBC’s Panorama has brought to light a case in which 11 doctors and a GSK regional manager are facing charges of corruption between 2010 and 2012.

The allegations add to woes of the UK-headquartered company, which has been guilty of serious misconduct in the US and China in the last few years.

The case in Poland concerns a former sales representative who says doctors were paid to promote GSK’s asthma drug Seretide.

The company has confirmed that one employee had been disciplined and that it is co-operating with investigations.

Proven cases of misconduct now carry the threat of criminal charges – the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have been passed in recent years and make it illegal for corporations based in either country to bribe government employees in foreign territories.

Panorama investigation

The BBC’s investigative reporters on Panorama uncovered allegations of endemic bribery in Poland, revealing a well-established system of payments.

A former sales rep for GSK in the Polish region of Lodz, Jarek Wisniewski, told the BBC “There is a simple equation,” he said. “We pay doctors, they give us prescriptions. We don’t pay doctors, we don’t see prescriptions for our drugs.

“We cannot go to doctors and say to them, ‘I need 20 more prescriptions’. So we prepare an agreement for them to give a talk to patients, we pay £100, but we expect more than 100 prescriptions for this drug.

Wisniewski says paper records show payments are for educational services, but in reality there is an understanding between doctors and the pharma company that the doctor must produce a certain number of prescriptions in return.

The public prosecutor in the Lodz region says it has found evidence to support claims of bribery. One doctor has already admitted taking bribes, and has been fined and given a suspended sentence. He told the BBC that he accepted £100 for a single lecture he never gave, but had been pressured by a GSK sales rep to do so.

GSK’s response

GSK has issued a statement saying that its investigations have found “evidence of inappropriate communication” by just one employee. It says this employee was reprimanded and disciplined in 2011.

GSK confirmed that it ran a programme between 2010 and 2012 to assist in improving diagnostic standards and medical training in respiratory disease.

In 2012, GSK paid $3bn (£1.9bn) in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history after pleading guilty to promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a diabetes drug to the FDA

Then in July last year authorities in China claimed that GSK had paid bribes of three billion Chinese yuan (£300m) to doctors in the country in the 2007 to 2010 period, using travel agencies as a way of disguising payments.

GSK responded directly to the Panorama programme by saying it agreed that there is “a need to modernise interactions between the industry and healthcare professionals” and reiterated existing plans for changes.

In December GSK announced that it was making major changes to its incentive schemes, declaring that it would cease payments to doctors for promotional talks. It also plans to stop setting individual targets for its sales force as part of a wider effort to improve transparency, and has signed up to the AllTrials register to make clinical trial data more accessible.

The BBC’s report Panorama: Who’s Paying Your Doctor? Is broadcast tonight on BBC One, Monday, 14 April at 20:30 BST


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