Open Medicine EU

I covered previously the written question from Nessa Childers MEP arising from the extensive bribery of surgeons in Greece some years ago – see my earlier post here.

The Commission has now given an answer, and it is bizarre.

While the bribery was going on, certain orthopedic devices were twice as expensive in Greece compared to the EU average. It seemed reasonable then for Nessa Childers to ask for information on current prices. The Commission said they have no information on the subject.

(Neither, by the way, does the industry association EUCOMED.)

On another issue, it’s not in breach of EU directives to pay doctors to prescribe particular devices. The Commission says it does not intend to ban such payments when revising the directives on medical devices, since there is a self-regulatory industry code on the subject.

The Commission had addressed the same point in a response to an earlier question from Christel Schaldemose MEP, stating . “It is not foreseen to include specific provisions in the Commission’s proposals which would address the issue of inducement of healthcare professionals by manufacturers because this is related to the exercise of the medical profession which is not specifically limited to medical devices and would fall outside the scope of the medical devices regulations“.

This is even more bizarre. The medicine directives prohibit inducements to doctors to prescribe particular medicines, so why not do the same for medical devices? In the Commission’s logic, the ban on payments to prescribe medicines should be lifted since “this is related to the exercise of the medical profession which is not specifically limited to…” medicines.

The bribery of doctors in Greece was wrong in itself, it would also have adversely affected the operation of the single market and distorted competition in a significant part of the single market. The bribery was uncovered, not by any authority in Europe but by the US Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission acting under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If the company concenrned had not been an American company the bribery might have continued much longer. (Action was taken in the UK after the US had intervened – the bribes had been channelled through a company registered in the Isle of Man.)

It is extraordinary that the Commission has never bothered to take the small step of checking prices to see if there were any cause for current concern, and seem to have just assumed that the problem has been solved by a voluntary industry code. So much for evidence based policy.

DG Enterprise were responsible for this dossier and generally, in my view, had too much faith in industry self-regulation. Sadly the move to DG Sanco, the health DG, has not changed the situation. END

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