Part three: Sponsoring society meetings
Steve Gray answers your questions about compliance with the ABHI Code of Business Practice and other industry codes that govern commercial activity.
(This article is based on a query recently received from one of our clients. As you would expect, I have changed the details and used an imaginary company name. However, the concept is very real and demonstrates the need to work closely with customers in order to manage their expectations.)
For many years, MK Surgical Instruments has supported the MKSS (Milton Keynes Surgical Society) and has provided generous sponsorship to enable MKSS to hold its annual educational weekend for its members.
The MKSS Chairman has written to us to ask for funding for this year's society meeting. In return, we will be able to place an exhibition stand in the meeting area and join the delegates for the scientific sessions. We will also be able to join them for the Saturday afternoon excursion.
The agenda includes dinner on the Friday evening, and a meal at a local restaurant on the Saturday evening. Partners are welcome and the hotel has been carefully chosen to ensure they have a relaxing weekend, with access to the spa and leisure facilities. It is possible that some delegates might bring their families, as the Society strives to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Sponsorship by MK Surgical Instruments will be acknowledged on the agenda and will be announced at both the dinners. The Chairman of the Society assures us that our products are widely used by the majority of MKSS members.
Is there any problem with our sponsorship of this society meeting?
Historically, medtech companies might have been keen to support this kind of event. It's a fantastic opportunity to mingle with customers in an informal environment, which can be the basis of lasting business relationships. In addition, the profile for the product is high and the investment might be expected to generate a good return from the MKSS members.
However, times have changed. The compliance officer at MK Surgical Instruments should reject this particular opportunity, because there are numerous concerns about the arrangements. To begin with, the event does not meet the core ABHI principle of separation. There is a clear link between the provision of the funding and the comments about the use of company products. There is also a lack of separation between the social and educational aspects of the meeting. In fact, the primary reason for the event seems to be the social aspects, with the educational agenda merely forming an excuse for bringing the society members together.
The ABHI Code recognises the value that can be gained by sponsoring third party educational events: "Bona fide independent, educational, scientific or policy-making conferences promote scientific knowledge, medical advancement and assist in the delivery of effective healthcare. To these ends, members may support such events provided the educational conference content promotes scientific knowledge, medical advancement and the delivery of effective healthcare and is consistent with relevant guidelines established by professional societies or organisations for such meetings."
However, the Code clearly states that members should not facilitate the attendance of family members at educational events. It also states that members should avoid venues such as luxury hotels, and that they should exercise caution when choosing hotels with leisure facilities (such as spas). The best way to avoid complications is to construct the agenda so that there is no significant free time during the working day.
In the case of the MKSS event, the best course of action would be to work with the Chairman, explaining why the currently planned arrangements are difficult to reconcile with the requirements of the Code. Careful customer management may be able to reshape the agenda and arrangements so that this meeting and all future meetings are suitable for the company to sponsor. That would be a more appropriate win-win outcome than that originally envisaged by the Chairman!
Steve Gray is an experienced compliance specialist and Managing Director of Compliance Hub Ltd, an accredited provider of training services to the ABHI. www.compliance-hub.com
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