From Kalgoorlie to St Kilda, Australian doctors are being “educated” every night of the week at swanky restaurants, courtesy of the drug companies.

In a world first, the Australian pharmaceutical industry has been forced to disclose a list of all the “educational” events for doctors, and all the juicy details are available today here.

While gifts and lavish meals are supposed to be banned under the industry’s self-regulatory code, today’s revelations show doctors are regularly being wined and dined with $100-a-head meals, not to mention the travel and accommodation often thrown in on top.

The industry’s website reveals that drug companies organise or sponsor almost 100 of these educational events every day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and pump more than a million dollars a week into these nosh-ups. That’s almost 30,000 events a year at a total cost of close to $60 million.

As you can see on the site for yourself, your GPs and specialists are being “educated” about new treatments at such esteemed places of learning as Sails on the Bay, Oxleys on the River and the beautiful Cable Beach Resort in Broome.

Late last year the drug company Abbott took a small group of doctors to dinner at Le Gourmet in Melbourne at a cost of almost $100-a-head. Pfizer meanwhile spent $125-a-head on a small group of psychiatrists at the University Club in Crawley, WA. Around the same time, GSK supplied a $100-a-head meal to a group of GPs at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane to “educate” them about a new vaccine.

The new disclosures were forced on industry by the combined efforts of the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission, and the Federal Court, which handed down a damning ruling last year — finding industry influence distorted prescribing practices and more transparency in these relationships was needed. The fundamental flaw here is that we don’t get the name of the doctor’s attending — they essentially remain a secret.

Medicines Australia says that in compiling the data it picked up over 50 possible breaches of its code, which will be investigated. In defense of this excess of wining and dining, the group says it’s important for patients that drug companies “dialogue” with doctors about new medicines: you be the judge.

From Monday at www.crikey.com.au look out for Croakey, Crikey’s new on-line health forum.

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Peter Fray
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