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Nursing staff and potential conflict of interest when engaging with pharmaceutical companies and sponsors

 The RCN is aware of the challenges that can be presented when registered nurses (RNs) engage with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, for example feeling that they need to /promote/endorse/use specific products.

Historically the pharmaceutical industry, or other commercial sponsorship has 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. For that reason, registered nurses who are recipients of such funding must ensure they work with openness, transparency and remain unbiased.

It is unethical to allow incentives to bias your prescribing practice in relation to specific medication/medical appliances. Prescribing and treatment choices must always be based on evidence of best patient outcomes Prescribing Competency Framework.

Each employing organisation may have an organisational policy on how their employees engage with pharmaceutical representatives and the processes that need to be followed, this will also include information on disclosure of any conflict of interests. However, 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.

As a Registered Nurse am I allowed to receive gifts from pharmaceutical companies? 

We would discourage registered nurses and nursing associates from receiving gifts, as this may be interpreted as an attempt to gain preferential treatment. The RCN has specific advice on receiving gifts.

I am a Health Care Support Worker do the same rules apply for me?

Yes as part of the nursing team you must work in line with your local policy, if you have concerns please report and discuss with your line 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.

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. Their Code of Practice explicitly states that any joint work must 'always benefit patients'. In addition, they have 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. 

Many educational courses rely on corporate sponsorship for funding. We recognise that without this sponsorship essential learning may not be accessible to many. However, nurses 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 industry, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice

Any attendance should be discussed with the individual organisation and or line manager. Where appropriate or available, nurses need to refer to any organisation policy or guidelines.

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 the training materials, then offer a few different examples if possible.

No as a registered nurse you must uphold The Code: Professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses, midwives and nursing associates. This is not dependant on the sector you are working in.

Your organisation may have an escalation process for you to follow as part of their 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

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