Prime Minister Narendra Modi met nine leading Indian pharma and healthcare business leaders on January 1. The meeting was attended by Satish Reddy (from Dr Reddy's), Ajay Piramal (Piramal Group), Pankaj Patel (Cadila Healthcare), Dilip Shanghvi (Sun Pharma), Habil Khorakiwala (Wockhardt), Rajiv Modi (Cadila Pharma), Sudhir Mehta (Torrent), Pavan Choudhary (MedTech) and Shobana Kamineni (Apollo Hospitals).
But the meeting has become a topic of huge debate with a media report saying the Prime Minister warned pharma companies against bribing doctors with women, foreign trips and gadgets.
To find out, BusinessToday.In got in touch with some of the business leaders who attended the meeting. They dismissed the media claim, but refused to be quoted. One industry leader who was at the meeting said, "...no such thing happened. The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, of which we are members, will issue a statement."
The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance in its statement released on 15 January said: "There was no discussion at all on the alleged bribes being given by pharma companies to doctors as being reported in the media. The meeting was a constructive one where the discussion was limited to initiatives to boost the industry. News reports to the contrary are baseless."
The statement further spelled out the focus of the discussion which was largely centred on the roadmap for the healthcare industry.
However, the statement hasn't been able to quell the issue. Dr Rajan Sharma, the national president of the Indian Medical Association, told Business Today, the allegations were of serious nature and the Prime Minister should clarify.
"These are serious allegations and bad for the medical profession and therefore we feel it is important for the Prime Minister to either deny, prove the charges or apologise to the medical profession if these are not true," he said.
Sharma added that if the charges were true then the Prime Minister should take strong action against the companies and licences of the doctors involved should be cancelled.
Dr. Sharma's demand is echoed in IMA's release. "IMA demands to know, if the government had details of the companies involved in supplying women to doctors, why it chose to invite them for a meeting in PMO rather than initiate criminal proceedings. Moreover, it is imperative on PMO now to release the names of the doctors convicted or otherwise. The state medical councils should initiate appropriate action if the doctors have been convicted on moral turpitude," the release stated.
Based on conversations with doctors, BusinessToday.In gathered concerns prevail over ethics of some companies and doctors in the medical sector.
Even though none of the doctors were willing to be quoted, the link node running across most responses was that some companies indulge in such unethical practices and there were doctors who play along.
Doctors BusinessToday.In spoke to say some companies do sponsor doctors and their families on holidays, giving away either cash or gifts. This is done in the garb of taking advisory services or sometimes seeking help in drug promotions. However, nobody that Business Today spoke to was aware of any case where women were supplied.
Dr Sharma said IMA had issued a statement clearly stating that action should to be taken against those found indulging in unethical practices. "If names are shared with us and if the investigating agencies find them guilty then we, on our part, will terminate their membership," he said.
The doctors that BusinessToday.in spoke to also say Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices, which aims to check the practice of giving freebies to doctors to promote sale of medicines, should be made mandatory instead of voluntary. They also advocate regulatory provisions for pharma companies to check malpractice.