NHS fires manager for organising pharma junkets

A health service manager has been dismissed after he organised overseas trips for a pharma company to wine, dine and influence NHS decision makers.

Paul Jerram, head of medicines management at the Isle of Wight CCG had been filmed offering his services by investigative reporters from the Daily Telegraph, exposing how pharma companies could sway NHS decisions on drugs.

The article was published in July last year and embarrassed both the NHS and the UK pharma industry, which already had rules in place prohibiting such lavish trips.

The trips in question involved pharma company Stirling Anglian flying NHS managers to a luxury hotel in the German spa town of Baden-Baden, with the health service managers even paid £500 for ‘consultancy services’.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt responded quickly to the story, pledging to introduce a ‘Sunshine rule’ obliging NHS employees to declare any payments or gifts from commercial companies.

Another person filmed offering to organise similar events was Omar Ali, formulary development pharmacist for Surrey and Sussex Hospital Trust. He resigned from his role shortly after the Daily Telegraph published its story, but Mr Jerram waited for his employers to conduct an internal review.

The CCG announced this week that Mr Jerram was dismissed with immediate effect on 30 December, after a hearing concluded his actions had been ‘not compatible with continued employment’ at the organisation.

Both Mr Jerram and Mr Ali were offering independent consultancy services to pharma companies alongside their NHS jobs as key decision makers and advisors on multi-million-pound budgets. This raises questions about just how many other NHS medicines management advisors could be offering such services, which create a clear conflict of interest.

Further details about how the planned Sunshine rule will work have not yet emerged. However from July, pharma companies in the UK are introducing a voluntary scheme to disclose payments to doctors, other health professionals and health service organisations, naming the individuals and the sums involved.

In December, Stirling Anglian was severely reprimanded by the UK pharma watchdog the PMCPA, despite it not being a member of industry association the ABPI.

The PMCPA ruled that the firm had ‘brought discredit and reduced confidence’ in the industry. The PMCPA says it is considering further sanctions against the company, although it doesn’t have the power to impose fines or other financial penalties on it.

Meanwhile, the NHS’s own anti-fraud unit, NHS Protect, launched its own investigation, which is still ongoing. This does have the power to pursue criminal charges, including offences under the Bribery Act.

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