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Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline bribed doctors to boost sales, says whistleblower

  • @chloehamilton

Britain’s biggest drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, allegedly bribed doctors in Poland using money that was meant to be spent on educating patients, according to new evidence revealed today by the BBC Panorama programme.

A GSK whistleblower claims that money put aside to teach patients in Poland about an asthma drug, Seretide, actually went towards paying doctors to prescribe more of the medicine.

Jarek Wisniewiski, who was with the company for eight years until 2012, worked on a marketing programme across the country in 2010 to push the asthma drug.

He told Panorama that although officially the money was to be spent on medical training, in reality it was used to bribe doctors to boost the company’s sales.

“I pay for education and in the same meeting I said that I need more prescriptions for Seretide. So… they knew exactly what I pay for,” he said. “We pay agreement for a speech; we pay £100 but we expect more than 100 prescriptions for this drug.”

Mr Wisniewiski says he told GSK that he was unhappy with the arrangement – an admission that he says resulted in him being sidelined at work and eventually sacked.

Another former employee, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that the company paid doctors for lectures that never happened but which would result in a greater number of prescriptions.

A criminal investigation has been launched, and 11 doctors and one GSK regional manager have been charged. The public prosecutor’s office in Lodz has examined the contracts that doctors were given by GSK, and says that it has found evidence to support claims of corrupt payments.

A spokesman said: “We have evidence to claim that in more than a dozen cases it was a camouflaged form of a bribe.In return for the financial gain, the doctors would favour the product proposed by the pharmaceutical company, and they prescribed that medicine.”

GSK sells some of the world’s best-known medicines and has an annual turnover of more than £26bn. However, allegations of bribery have hounded the company in recent months. The most recent claims come just a week after reports that GSK hired Iraqi government doctors and pharmacists to act as sales representatives for the Brentford-based company, to boost revenues for its medicines.

The company is also waiting to find out whether it will face prosecution in China following claims it paid £300m to doctors and government officials there.

The company’s Chinese sales plummeted by 61 per cent in the third quarter of last year, and 18 per cent in the final quarter, after its offices were raided by Chinese police and its staff arrested.

The allegations have not been established but if found to be true, GSK may have violated both the UK’s Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In both countries it is illegal for companies operating there to bribe government employees abroad.

In response to Panorama’s questions about the case, GSK confirmed that it had run a programme in Poland from 2010 to 2012 to help improve diagnostic standards and medical training for the benefit of patients with respiratory disease.

GSK says it is investigating the allegations. A chief executive has stated that the company has “zero tolerance” with respect to the issues raised in the allegations and is co-operating fully with investigators.