Why the ABPI Code Principles matter

Why the ABPI Code Principles matter

This week, the updated ABPI Code has been published, alongside a clear set of ABPI Principles. Here, Ben Osborn, President of the ABPI, explains why these Principles matter.


The past year has demonstrated beyond all doubt the value of industry, the NHS and many others working together on a single mission – to fight COVID-19.

In the past year, we’ve all had to make changes and adapt because of the pandemic, but one thing we can be certain of is that the ABPI Code of Practice will continue to commit our industry to the highest standards of professionalism and ethics.

In 2021, the ABPI Code is published alongside a clear set of ABPI Principles, capturing the values that underpin all of the work the Code strives to manage: benefitting patients, acting with integrity, ensuring transparency, and treating everyone with respect.

In a year which has seen all aspects of health and care changing rapidly, the Code rules had to change too. For example, the new Code now accounts for temporary authorisations being given for medicines in public health emergencies and changes to marketing authorisations as a result of leaving the EU.

These are not huge changes, but examples of adjustments we need to make for the changing times we operate in.

But why do we need the ABPI Principles in addition to the actual Code? We’re already one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, and rightly so. The Code not only reflects the law; it goes above and beyond it too; it has all the requirements we need to stick to.

Ethical compass

The answer is that the ABPI Principles are the ethical compass for our industry and an extremely useful guide to whether or not we are doing the right thing by the people we serve.

If we think of every decision we make as companies through the lens of whether we are benefitting patients, acting with integrity, ensuring transparency, and treating everyone with respect, it will take us most of the way towards doing the right thing in our every-day roles.

I am very proud to work for an industry that is a force for good. To be seen as a force for good, we have to make good decisions, and those don’t just come from rules and regulations, they come from people In companies applying a principled, ethical perspective to the work they do.

The ABPI Principles should be our ethical compass, and it is all of our responsibility to put them into action, regardless of role or rank. Senior leaders should lead this effort, and create an environment where people feel they can raise concerns. If anyone sees behaviour that isn’t in line with the Principles, they should be able to hold their own colleagues to account for it, and be applauded in doing so.

That is why I ask everyone in every company to pay as much attention to the Principles as the Code itself. Have them on your desk, put them on the wall, have them as a screensaver, do everything you can to keep them front of mind and make them real in everything you do.

Patients put their trust and their health in our hands, and we have a responsibility to put them first in everything we do. The ABPI Principles will help us do that and here are examples of how:

ABPI Principal
We are committed to benefiting patients and ensuring patient safety by operating in a professional, ethical and transparent manner to ensure the appropriate and rational use of medicines and to support the provision of high-quality healthcare.
All interactions with patients and other stakeholders must comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Examples of how companies can demonstrate the Principles in behaviour:

  • We promote only within the terms of the marketing authorisation.
  • We do not advertise prescription only medicines to the public (other than vaccination campaigns approved by the health ministers).
  • While our activities can encourage members of the public to seek treatment, they must not promote the use of a specific prescription only medicine.
  • We ensure that all information is accurate, fair and balanced.
  • We act promptly when advised of adverse events and encourage the use of the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme to support patient safety.

ABPI Principal
We act with integrity and commit to engaging in relationships which are responsible, professional, ethical and transparent.

We ensure that all our communications are appropriate, accurate, factual, fair, balanced, up-to-date, not misleading, capable of substantiation and reflect the available evidence, and that all other activities are appropriate and reasonable and of the highest standards.

Examples of how companies can demonstrate the Principles in behaviour:

  • We are accountable for the activities of both our staff and third-party providers.
  • We do not offer any improper payments, benefits, inducements, or anything of value to influence actions or decisions, obtain or retain business, or otherwise secure any improper advantage, either directly or indirectly, to any individual, organisation or stakeholder.

ABPI Principal
We are committed to ensuring that transparency is respected. We are open about our activities and interactions with all stakeholders and encourage our stakeholders to act with the same openness.

Examples of how companies can demonstrate the Principles in behaviour:

  • We disclose certain transfers of value to health professionals, other relevant decision makers, healthcare organisations, institutions etc and payments made to patient organisations and the public, including patients and journalists.
  • We publish details of ongoing and completed clinical trials via relevant databases and registries.
  • We do not disguise promotion.
  • Company involvement in all materials and activities is made clear from the outset.

ABPI Principal
We interact with all our stakeholders with respect. We are committed to approaching our stakeholders in an open and constructive manner and with mutual respect.

Examples of how companies can demonstrate the Principles in behaviour:

  • We recognise and seek to balance the needs of patients, health professionals and the public, taking into account the environment within which the industry operates and the statutory controls governing medicines.
  • We value the importance of independent decision-making by all those we interact with.