Patients and individuals representing patient organisations can add personal experience and a welcome perspective to meetings and events including conferences, congresses and clinical trial days.

What the ABPI Code says

Clause 10.3 of the ABPI Code states that there must be a written agreement in place for sponsorship of patient organisations (including individuals representing patient organisations to attend events/ meetings) including, where possible, a breakdown of agreed costs

Note: Clause 27.2 of the Code outlines requirements for the written agreement.

When considering an event/meeting check your plans against Clause 10.1 to ensure it fulfils the Code’s following requirements:

Event/Meeting requirement checklist:

✔ The meeting must have a clear educational content, it should be the programme that attracts delegates to attend and not the associated hospitality or venue.

✔ The content must be appropriate and relevant to attendees.

✔ The venue must be appropriate and conducive to the main purpose of the meeting; lavish, extravagant or deluxe venues must not be used.

✔ Any associated subsistence (food and drink), accommodation and travel costs must be strictly limited to the main purpose of the event/meeting, must be of secondary consideration and must be appropriate and not out of proportion to the occasion.

✔ Companies must not sponsor or organise entertainment for the meeting (such as sporting or leisure events) and companies should avoid using venues that are renowned for their entertainment facilities.

✔ Any hospitality provided must not extend to an accompanying person unless that person qualifies as a proper delegate or participant at the meeting in their own right, or is a carer.

✔ In exceptional cases of established clear health needs of the delegate (eg disability or injury), similar hospitality may be provided for an accompanying person.

Requirements for disclosure of payments

The ABPI Code also sets out key considerations regarding the requirements for the disclosure of
payments or sponsorships of patient organisations; or individuals representing patient organisations
to attend meetings and events, as follows:

✔ Clause 10.2 - No payment may be offered or paid to individuals merely for their time spent in attending events/ meetings.

✔ Clause 29.1 - Companies must make publicly available annually, a list of patient organisations to which it provides donations, grants or sponsorship (including in relation to events/meetings) or with whom it has engaged to provide contracted services over the reporting period. This information must be disclosed on the company website either on a national or European level. Each reporting period shall cover a full calendar year.

✔ Each company must include a note of methodologies used by it in preparing the disclosures and identifying support and contracted services provided.

✔ Clause 29 of the Code sets out all details regarding disclosure requirements, and this should be referenced and followed.

Clause 29, 30 and 31 of the Code also set out all details regarding disclosure requirements, and these should be considered.

Sharing information when patients are present

At some events there may be a mixed audience consisting of both health professionals and lay people. Many pharmaceutical companies and patient organisations worry about what can be shared when patients are in the room.

The ABPI Code’s principle on sharing information with the general public still stands: promotion of prescription-only medicines is not permitted.

That means that promotional presentations suitable for health professionals are not appropriate for patients. Clause 26 of the ABPI Code and its associated supplementary information provides detailed information about what can be shared with the public.

Planning events involving patients

The purpose of patient or patient organisation involvement at an event should be articulated well in advance, and agreement sought on the respective roles and responsibilities of companies and patient organisations. Aim for a shared, joint solution that respects the interests of all parties and complies with all Code requirements.

When planning an event involving patients, consider inclusion and access requirements for the venue, including by providing a named person for patients or members of the public to liaise with before and during the event, especially if they have additional needs.

Think carefully about the structure of the agenda, timing of Q&As or closing remarks, and signpost which sessions are suitable for which audiences. Descriptive language, restricted access sessions or online areas and passwords will help to make this distinction between sessions for different audiences. Consider how room layout and access can assist with differentiating sessions. If another organisation is hosting the meeting or event, provide feedback on the format to the organising body, ahead of time.

Take care to explain clearly to a patient participant the reasons why certain sessions are not available for patients to attend. Patients can find it confusing or frustrating to be barred from joining or asked to leave a session; or to encounter posters or other material which are covered up to prevent them viewing promotional material for prescription-only medicines.

Social media

Social media is a growing tool used commonly by organisations to raise awareness of certain information which may include meetings, events and disease awareness information. Consideration should be given to any materials or content that is developed and used on social media by pharmaceutical companies. As above, the principle on sharing information with the general public stands.

Clause 26.2 Supplementary Information – Information to the Public includes a statement in relation to social media:

Companies should take particular care if they use social media. Any information so provided must observe the principles set out in this clause; that is, it should be factual, balanced and must not encourage members of the public to ask their doctors or other prescribers to prescribe a specific prescription only medicine. It must not constitute the advertising of prescription only medicines to the public prohibited under Clause 26.1..

Overseas events

The ABPI Code sets out reasons why a venue outside the UK could be appropriate for a meeting or event involving patients or patient organisations. The supplementary information to Clause 10.1 Events/Meetings held Outside the UK gives context:

The supplementary information to Clause 10.1 Events/Meetings held Outside the UK states: ‘Events/meetings organised by pharmaceutical companies which involve UK health professionals at venues outside the UK are not necessarily unacceptable. There needs to be valid and cogent reasons for holding the event/meeting at such venues. These are that most of the invitees are from outside the UK and, given their countries of origin, it makes greater logistical sense to hold the event/meeting outside the UK or, given the location of the relevant resource or expertise that is the object or subject matter of the event/ meeting, it makes greater logistical sense to hold the event/ meeting outside the UK. Consideration should be given to the use of technology to avoid travel outside the UK, e.g. webinars, virtual meetings.’

The same requirements relating to appropriateness of event, arrangements for payments and their disclosure, and sharing information apply for overseas events as they do for UK events.

Advisory boards

Companies can arrange advisory board meetings and pay health professionals and others – for example patients or individuals representing patient organisations - for advice on subjects relevant to their products. They should be held to enable companies to answer legitimate business questions to which they do not already know the answer, and where the invited attendees may be able to help with such questions.

Advisory boards cannot be used to promote a company’s medicines and must not be an inducement to recommend, prescribe, purchase, supply, sell or administer specific medicinal products.

If you plan to invite patients or patient organisations to an advisory board, check that the answer to all the following questions is “yes”. If the answer to any of the questions is “no”, there may be a compliance issue to consider before proceeding.

✔ Does the company have a legitimate unanswered business question?

✔ Is an advisory board the most appropriate way of obtaining the information?

✔ Does every participant have the relevant expertise to contribute meaningfully to the purpose and expected output of the meeting?

✔ Is the number of participants limited so as to allow active participation by all?

✔ Does the agenda allow adequate time for discussion? Is a significant majority of the time spent on feedback from the participants?

✔ Has the company wholly and solely determined its need for the advisory board, with no input from expected attendees?

✔ Is the number of delegates/meetings strictly limited to that required to answer the question?

✔ Does the invitation to participate clearly state the purpose of the meeting, the expected advisory role and the amount of work to be undertaken?

✔ Are the participants being paid no more than ‘fair market value’?

✔ Are intended presentations to participants relevant to their role in answering the business question?

✔ Is this the only advisory board to address the business question at issue?

✔ Are the participants expected to do any preparatory work?

✔ Are all those involved with the meeting (staff, third parties, participants) clear on the need for and expected output from the meeting?

Once you are satisfied that an advisory board meeting involving patients or patient organisations is appropriate and compliant with the ABPI Code, use the checklist below in your planning:

✔ Are the arrangements (e.g. venue, subsistence, travel, contract) appropriate?


How were the participants selected?

✔ Who from, or on behalf of, the company is attending? Do they have a defined role and is the ratio of company employees/others to participants reasonable?

✔ Will there be a conclusions/recommendations report? What use will be made of it?

✔ Have any advisory boards for the same medicine/therapy area already taken place/been planned within, for example, a 12-month period? If so, what is the justification for another one?

✔ What follow-up, if any, is to be undertaken with participants, and is this appropriate for the specific advisory board?

✔ Is this advisory board held in conjunction with any other meeting such as a learned society congress?

Last modified: 23 May 2024

Last reviewed: 23 May 2024