An anonymous, non-contactable complainant alleged that a male employee of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals (UK) behaved inappropriately and provided inappropriate hospitality following a dinner at a meeting partly funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The complainant stated that he/she went from the private function area at a hotel where dinner had been held to the public hotel bar and noticed three Otsuka employees. Descriptions were provided. A female health professional, who the complainant remembered as being very drunk at the dinner, subsequently entered the bar and started talking to the Otsuka employees. Although she was obviously intoxicated a male Otsuka employee continued to ply her with drinks; his two female colleagues seemed unhappy with this.
A fourth Otsuka employee joined the female employees and this group seemed concerned about the conduct of their male colleague. The body language between the male Otsuka employee and the health professional became more intimate and flirtatious and after a number of drinks being bought by the male in question for the female health professional the two left the bar.
The complainant alleged that the conduct of the male Otsuka employee breached Clause 2; the health professional was obviously intoxicated and by continuing to buy her more drink he put her at risk and potentially brought the industry into disrepute.
The detailed response from Otsuka is given below.
The Panel noted that the Code set out detailed requirements in relation to meetings and in particular the provision of subsistence and made it clear that it should be the programme that attracted delegates and not the associated hospitality or venue. The supplementary information also stated that a useful criterion in determining whether the arrangements for any meeting were acceptable was to apply the question ‘would you and your company be willing to have these arrangements generally known?’. The impression created by the arrangements for any meeting must always be kept in mind.
The Panel noted that the identity and professional status of the woman in question was unknown although according to Otsuka she had described herself as a researcher. Overall it appeared that the woman was a delegate at the meeting. The Panel disagreed with Otsuka’s submission that a researcher was neither a health professional, nor a relevant decision maker and thus the relevant provisions in the Code about meetings would not apply. In the Panel’s view, irrespective of whether a researcher was a health professional, relevant decision maker (2015 Code), appropriate administrative staff (2014 Code) or member of the public, subsistence should meet the requirements of the Code in relation to meetings. This was particularly relevant as from the company’s submission it was clear that it did not know the woman in question and she could have been a health professional.
The Panel accepted that company employees would want to wind down at the end of a full day at a meeting. The employees were at the conference venue as representatives of their company and as such they should continue to be mindful of the impression created by behaviour beyond the formal meeting and any associated meetings/subsistence. This was particularly important when interacting with UK health professionals and especially so in a late-night social environment.
The Panel noted that whilst there were some differences between the complaint and the company’s response, including between the statements of relevant staff, there was overall much agreement. All staff present at the bar agreed that the woman had approached the senior male Otsuka employee, that she appeared intoxicated and that the senior employee required two colleagues to each buy her a drink during the evening. According to Otsuka this was contrary to company procedures which required subsistence to be purchased by the senior member of staff present which would be the man in question. One of the employees purchased two small glasses of wine at the woman’s request; the other employee, contrary to the senior employee’s instruction, bought her a glass of water. In addition, one member of staff referred to the woman and male employee each holding a drink prior to the aforementioned purchases. It was unclear who had purchased these. One employee said that when she came to the bar from her bedroom the senior employee bought her a drink. The account of the fourth Otsuka employee, who subsequently joined the group, was consistent.
The Panel considered that the Otsuka employees would have known that delegates from the adjoining dinner, including UK health professionals, would have been in the hotel bar and should have been mindful of the impression created by any interaction with them and aware of the public nature of their behaviour. A number of employees referred to talking to customers in the bar. The drinks were purchased by a pharmaceutical company for someone who had attended the meeting’s dinner. The Panel queried whether a shared late night social environment could ever be appropriate and in particular did not consider that it was an appropriate environment for the senior employee, who was relatively new to the therapy area, to be introduced to relevant health professionals.
In the Panel’s view, the purchase of drinks for the woman in question in such circumstances was contrary to the requirements of the Code and a breach was ruled. It could not be argued that the purchase was part of the subsistence provided at the meeting. High standards had not been maintained; a further breach was ruled.
The Panel noted its rulings above and was particularly concerned about the impression given by the senior Otsuka employee organising the purchase of drinks for a delegate who was by all accounts intoxicated. The Panel noted the descriptions of the behaviour of both the senior employee and the delegate in question whilst in the public bar. The Panel considered that overall the matter brought discredit upon and reduced confidence in the pharmaceutical industry. A breach of Clause 2 was ruled.