By Tony Collins
IT supplier TPP has stopped offering gifts to GPs while it has talks with NHS Connecting for Health and CSC.
TPP has offered tea at The Ritz, theatre tickets, Marks and Spencer vouchers and chocolates to GPs in return for their hosting demonstrations of its SystmOne product.
Parts of the NHS have clearly-defined rules on the acceptance of gifts or hospitality, though the rules do not apply to GPs. NHS Sheffield tells its staff:
“All offers of hospitality should be approached with caution. Modest hospitality, for example, a drink and sandwich during a visit or a working lunch is normal and reasonable and does not require approval of a manager. Offers of hospitality relating to theatre evenings, sporting fixtures, or holiday accommodation, or other hospitality must be declined…”
The guidance adds:
“Casual gifts by contractors or others, e.g. at Christmas time, must not be in any way connected with the performance of duties …”
On 30 January 2012 Campaign4Change reported that TPP has offered gifts to tea at The Ritz or two tickets to a West End show to GP leaders in return for helping to organise an event that would give the company a chance to demonstrate its systems.
TPP SystmOne has said in its marketing literature that its systems hold a third of the country’s patient records and have about 100,000 users.
In reply to our questions about TPP’s offers to GPs, the Department of Health said in January that TPP had ceased offering the incentives after a DH intervention.
“We were made aware and asked the supplier about this activity,” said a Department of Health spokesperson. “The supplier has subsequently confirmed that they have ceased offering incentives to GPs.”
Ten days later Pulse reported that TPP was still offering incentives to GPs. Pulse quoted TPP as saying that it had “momentarily stopped offering the incentives over Christmas but will be resuming during February”.
TPP told Pulse: ‘The incentives were offered only to GPs and practice managers and were completely optional … ‘Our ‘Tea at the Ritz’ offer actually costs considerably less than the cost of catering for such a practice meeting. We at TPP appreciate that GPs and their staff are extremely busy and so any thank-you gifts we offer staff are simply that, a thank-you for an hour or two of their time.’
Campaign4Change then questioned whether the DH is powerless to stop TPP offering gifts.
We said that a level playing field for suppliers would mean that all suppliers offered tea at the Ritz or Marks and Spencer vouchers in return for a chance to demo their systems to GPs. Alternatively suppliers could agree that none offers gifts.
Now Pulse has reported that TPP has stopped offering gifts to GP, at least while it has talks with CSC and NHS Connecting for Health. TPP is quoted in Pulse as saying:
Obviously TPP would not have begun offering incentives as a thank-you for a GP’s time, if we were not highly confident that we are not doing anything wrong legally or ethically. That remains our position.
However following recent communication with CSC and Connecting for Health we have postponed the sending of marketing material that offers incentives for SystmOne demonstrations, until all parties have agreed a way forward.
There may have been miscommunications in the past about what incentives were offered, when and to whom, but TPP has always been upfront about any promotional incentives that are offered. All parties are now keen to ensure we can agree on ways to advertise and promote our products whilst maintaining our high ethical standards.’
‘In the meantime we will continue to consult with GPs, their staff and any NHS guidelines, in order to gain feedback about the best ways to demonstrate SystmOne to them.
Whether or not the talks between TPP, CSC and the Department of Health might have been prompted, in part, by recent publicity over TPP’s offering of gifts, we’re pleased the talks are taking place.
If all IT suppliers to the NHS offered gifts to GPs then some doctors could end up seeing IT demos based in part on the attractiveness of the gifts on offer.