Medical reps restricted from govt. hospitals

By Don Asoka Wijewardena

A special circular prohibiting medical sales representatives from visiting State-run hospitals has been sent to all hospital directors by the Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Ravindra Ruberu. Health Ministry sources said the decision was due to a deluge of complaints from the general public and the medical personnel that such sales representatives visit during working hours to promote their drugs to doctors and consultants often disrupting the smooth running of hospitals.

Medial representatives were hired by multinational drug companies to sell their drugs and pharmaceuticals. The only motive of such companies was profit maximization. All State-run hospital directors would have to comply with the provisions of the circular and take immediate action to prohibit the visits of medical representatives, a Health Ministry high official said.

When contacted the Secretary to the Health Ministry Dr. Ravindra Ruberu said that the visits of medical representatives to State-run hospitals to see doctors and consultants had been officially allowed earlier with some conditions. In accordance with the original circular sent to hospitals earlier, the medical representatives could visit hospitals three days per week for 2 hours. "What has happened was that most medical representatives visited hospitals almost every day," Dr. Ruberu stressed.

He pointed out that some officials of the Chamber of the Pharmaceuticals Industry had come to see him to discuss the time limitations and the number of days permitted for visits of medical representatives. He had asked them to comply with the circular. Although they had asked him to change the number of days and the time frame, he had not agreed with their requests. Of late medical representatives had done more harm than good. Instead of three days they were visiting hospitals daily and creating problems. When doctors and consultants were busy with patients, the representatives visited even the wards to meet doctors. The Ministry had no alternative but to issue a circular prohibiting the visits of medical representatives. It was a punishable offence to visit hospitals without the permission of the respective Medical Superintendent or Hospital Director.

A Provincial Health Director, on condition of anonymity, however said that it was not fair to prohibit the visits of the medical reps. In an era of open economy the drug companies had every right to sell their products at any place at any time. The issuance of a circular in prohibiting the visits by medical reps was unreasonable.

He claimed that the Health Ministry was blocking foreign visits of doctors for seminars, workshop and symposiums meant to update their knowledge on new vistas of medicine. There were some groups of Health Ministry officials who had been visiting foreign countries 20 times per year. "The Health Ministry is a bottomless pit of corruption, because some high officials are deliberately blocking foreign visits of doctors. Doctors want to attend conferences, seminars and workshops organized by foreign countries. But some high officials of the Health Ministry block the chances of doctors and attend such conferences in their place. It is a great injustice meted out to doctors," the Provincial Health Director revealed.

He conceded that some multinational drug companies were offering foreign tours and rewards to doctors in order to market their products. If the Health Ministry was blocking foreign tours of doctors, it was not logical to blame drug companies for offering tours to doctors. Doctors were supposed to update their medical knowledge by attending conferences and seminars. However when foreign medical organizations invited Sri Lankan doctors to attend official events, the same group of high officials of the Health Ministry went abroad.

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