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ABPI launches new prescribing support guide for healthcare professionals

A new guide to how the pharmaceutical industry can help healthcare professionals with complex prescribing decisions has been launched today by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

Today’s publication No more, no less: A guide to the appropriate prescribing of medicines and the role of industry sets out the information and support companies can provide clinicians when making challenging prescribing decisions.

It also highlights the responsibilities that pharmaceutical companies have to make sure the information they provide supports high-quality healthcare.

Each year in the UK, more than one billion medicines are prescribed and dispensed from over 18,000 preparations licenced for use by the MHRA. [1] [2]

The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated, and to gain approval for a medicine companies must ensure it is developed and manufactured to rigorous safety standards. Companies’ responsibility for a medicine continues after approval, with safety surveillance for as long as the medicine is in use.

Pharmaceutical companies are, therefore, experts on the quality, safety and efficacy of their medicines and have resources available to help guide appropriate prescribing. These include the Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC), medical information and pharmacovigilance expertise, and medical advisers who can provide information and data as needed, including when it might be appropriate not to prescribe.

Dr Amit Aggarwal, Executive Director of Medical Affairs at the ABPI said: “Companies want to support ethical and evidence-based prescribing, and help healthcare professionals and patients reach proportionate decisions about the best course of treatment in different situations, which may be no treatment at all.

“It is in the interests of patients, the NHS, and the life sciences industry for patients to receive only the medicines they need, and only for as long as they need them. No more, no less.

“This guide will help clinicians understand the range of support companies can provide, and I encourage them to take advantage of all the help available in making prescribing decisions.”

Most pharmaceutical companies in the UK provide a Medical Information Service (MIS) for healthcare professionals, patients and the public via telephone or email. MIS personnel, sometimes known as Medical Service Liaisons (MSLs), are trained to provide balanced information and advice on all clinical aspects of medicines.

The report includes examples of these services in action and the type of information provided to assist clinicians with their decisions in specific cases.[3]

The report also highlights the responsibilities of industry under the ABPI Code of Practice when interacting with healthcare professionals and organisations.

The ABPI Code embodies the pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to operate professionally, ethically and transparently to ensure the appropriate use of medicines for the benefit of patients.

It covers the promotion of medicines for prescribing to healthcare professionals and other relevant decision-makers. Crucially, it sets standards for providing information about prescription-only medicines to the public and patients.

The report recommends that companies consider whether their sales representatives could play a more holistic role.

This would mean, when speaking with health professionals, addressing not only the efficacy and safety of the medicine and who the medicine is appropriate for, but also giving reasonable weight in the conversation to who the medicine might not be appropriate for, as well as how the medicine fits into a broader polypharmacy scenario that a healthcare professional might be confronted with.

Today’s guide is intended to be read alongside other sources of support and information from Royal Colleges and other professional bodies.

  • ABPI Code

Last modified: 15 February 2024

Last reviewed: 15 February 2024

[1] NHS Business Services Authority, ‘Prescription Cost Analysis – England – 2021/22’, June 2022, available at https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/statistical-collections/prescription-cost-analysis-england/prescription-cost-analysis-england-202122
[2] Audi, S., Burrage, D. R., Lonsdale, D. O., Pontefract, S., Coleman, J. J., Hitchings, A. W. and Baker, E. H. (2018) The ‘top 100’ drugs and classes in England: an updated ‘starter formulary’ for trainee prescribers, Br J Clin Pharmacol, 84, 2562–71, https://doi.org/10.1111/bcp.13709

[3] Case study example
A patient was receiving a medicinal product to help with an inflammatory bowel condition. Following three months of successful treatment the patient fell pregnant and needed to make an informed decision about whether to continue with treatment.

The treating physician contacted the Medical Service Liaison (MSL) within the company to request further information on use in pregnancy in order to be able to counsel the patient appropriately and enable that decision. While use in pregnancy was not contraindicated, there was limited information within the current product label and use in pregnancy was not recommended.

The pharmacovigilance team reviewed the Periodic Safety Update Report – a report supplied to regulatory authorities that provides the worldwide safety experience of a product within a defined timeframe, as well as information on pregnancy-related outcomes through the pharmacovigilance database – and had a discussion with the global medical safety lead. Following this, the pharmacovigilance team created a medical safety review report of data from pregnant patients, which was provided to the physician.

This also provided the team with an opportunity to highlight to the physician the importance of completing the related pregnancy follow-up forms, as well as how this information is then used in the aggregate reporting process and how it can impact on the product label in the future.

Provision of this data enabled the physician to discuss the information with their patient, and in this case the patient decided to continue with treatment, informed of the benefits and risks of continued treatment.   

The ABPI exists to make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines. We represent companies of all sizes who invest in discovering the medicines of the future. 

Our members supply cutting edge treatments that improve and save the lives of millions of people. We work in partnership with Government and the NHS so patients can get new treatments faster and the NHS can plan how much it spends on medicines. Every day, we partner with organisations in the life sciences community and beyond to transform lives across the UK.