Eucomed published on 23 December 2010 its first Compliance Panel recommendation on the sponsorship of third party educational conferences by Eucomed members. The Panel, an independent body of three external opinion leading experts, was appointed to help provide guidance on the interpretation of the Eucomed Code of Ethical Business Practice as well as drive European harmonisation with respect to Code implementation and comprehension. With this publication, the Panel has outlined in detail six objectives that must be met in order to be compliant with the Eucomed Code, as far as the sponsoring of a congress is concerned.
The decision by Eucomed to request the Panel for such a recommendation was triggered by a number of requests by both Eucomed members, and professional congress organisers (PCO’s) about sponsorship invitations regarding third-party congresses and conferences.
It is worthwhile noting that the sponsoring of congresses has become a rather large and time-consuming part of the compliance activities for Eucomed and for its members, mainly due to the inherent conflict of interest when industry is directly sponsoring the [general] education of physicians. This issue can potentially be addressed by changing the code and putting an end to the direct sponsorship of Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) to congresses, but this is a major policy shift. The US model, where sponsorship of HCPs to congresses is financed through grants provided to the conference sponsor (i.e. no direct sponsorship of HCPs by industry) cannot be merely copied over, and thus, as a group, we will have to carefully consider our options and time our strategy properly as well as discuss it with other stakeholders.
The Compliance Panel was created in March 2010, primarily to help to ensure the adherence to the Eucomed Code by all members of Eucomed as well as drive European harmonisation with respect to the implementation and comprehension of the Code. It is only in countries where no national dispute resolution mechanism exists that the Panel can also intercede as a decision maker in first and last instance. In other words, ideally, the Eucomed Panel would take questions of referral by national panels, but should never be the decision maker. Most of the national members have such a formal system whereby a company can lodge a complaint in order to enforce the [national] code, which has to respect the principles of the Eucomed Code.
It is interesting that, so far, no formal complaint has been lodged with the Eucomed Panel. Eucomed encourages its members to follow the formal national routes in order to give more credibility to the entire system. At national level, various national associations have dealt with formal disputes over the last couple of years, enforcing the national codes and imposing penalties. In our view this is how the dispute resolution system should work, but there are related issues such as a possible change of the Code, where the discussions have just started.
– Aline Lautenberg Legal Counsel, Eucomed