When it comes to drug company hospitality, I count myself an expert. Yes, I’m a professor of five star hotels and free bars.
To date, I’ve been on the payroll of more than 50 different drug companies and I’ve been flown all over the world gratis.
That must make me the undisputed winner of the ‘Biggest Pharmaceutical Tart in the Country’ Award. Nice work if you can get it.
Perhaps I should explain. None of this has anything to do with a sudden enthusiasm for the latest drugs. I just do the conference cabaret.
This isn’t straight after dinner – usually some bald MD comes on first – but it’s not long before I’m in the bar chatting to the reps.
The older reps tell wonderful stories of pitching up at the doctor’s surgery and lighting three fags: one for the rep, one for the receptionist, and one for the senior partner.
Those were the glory days of selling, when they were ushered straight into the surgery, brandishing their tickets for Twickenham.
These days they’ve got the bearded receptionist, the jackbooted manager and the practice formulary to negotiate before they get a sniff of a doctor.
And now they’re not allowed to tempt him into prescribing their drug with anything more exciting than a pad of sticky notes or a paperweight.
Most reps have psychology degrees and are constantly trying to match their patter to your personality type. Apparently, doctors can be either ‘innovators’ or ‘herd-followers’.
One rep keeps mistaking me for an innovator and gives me long spiels about the merits of her drug.
There are plenty of colourful bar charts to look at and some very favourable cost comparisons, but I could find no trace of a control group.
I meant to point it out but I do so enjoy our little chats and I didn’t want to upset her. Besides, she’d just given me a free hacksaw to cut through my seatbelt the next time I’m caught in a motorway pile-up.
So what else can we learn from drug companies?
Just look at the way the good ones look after their own. You can work for 40 years in the NHS without receiving a compliment, whereas some drug companies go out of their way to encourage their staff.
OK they’ve got the money to do it, but the NHS is so riddled with cynicism, scape-goating and humiliation that most of us have forgotten the value of praise.