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Conflicts of interest

Historically, the pharmaceutical industry and/or other commercial organisations have supplied funding for research, educational grants, and sponsorship of learning events across health and social care, which may or may not have been possible without this funding. All members of the nursing team who are recipients of such funding must ensure they work with openness, transparency and remain unbiased.

As an example, it is unethical for gifts or incentives to bias a nurse's prescribing practice in favour of specific medication/medical appliances. Prescribing and treatment choices must always be based on evidence of best patient outcomes, as per the Prescribing Competency Framework.

Follow your workplace policy

Employing organisations may have an organisational policy on how their staff engage with pharmaceutical representatives or sponsors and the processes that need to be followed. This will also include information on disclosure of any conflict of interests.

The RCN recognises this may not always be the case, especially within some of the smaller organisations and some employers within the independent or voluntary sector. If you have concerns, please report and discuss them with your manager.

It is inherent within the NMC Code that registrants are transparent, open, and trustworthy and, as such, accepting or receiving 'gifts' may be seen as incentivising the use of specific products.

This applies regardless of where you work - whether you work in the NHS or the independent/voluntary sector.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) have done a lot of work to increase transparency around the relationships between pharmaceutical companies and health care professionals. Its Code of Practice explicitly states that any joint work must 'always benefit patients'. It has also established Disclosure UK where anyone can access details of payments or benefits in kind made to health care professionals.

Please also see this NHS England blog for more information. 

The RCN discourages all nursing staff from receiving gifts, as this may be interpreted as an attempt to gain preferential treatment. The RCN has specific advice on receiving gifts.

Many educational courses rely on corporate sponsorship for funding. The RCN recognises that without this sponsorship essential learning may not be accessible to many. However, members need to be aware of the potential conflict such courses and educational opportunities provide. They need to ensure any involvement is clear and transparent and in line with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice

Discuss your attendance with the individual organisation and/or your line manager. Where appropriate or available, nurses need to refer to any organisation policy or guidelines in place.

The use of generic medication names rather than brand names should be used as far as possible – bearing in mind that dosage may vary in comparison. If giving examples within training materials, then offer a few different examples if possible.

Your organisation may have an escalation process for you to follow as part of its policy. If your employing organisation does not have a policy in place then you must raise this initially with your line manager. If you need support, please contact us

Complaints can also be made directly to the respective Pharmaceutical company in the first instance. If the issue cannot be resolved, it should be raised with Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

Gifts and wills

Your rights and responsibilities if you are offered a gift from a patient or named in their will

Search our advice guides

See our A-Z of advice. These guides will help you answer many of your questions about work. 

Page last updated - 29/01/2024