The company, which has made a series of public promises to “root out corruption wherever it exists” following allegations that it bribed doctors with £320m worth of cash and sexual favours in China, admitted on Monday that a GSK employee was disciplined in relation to the Polish allegations.
GSK, which has repeatedly trumpeted its “zero tolerance” corruption policy as it battles to salvage its corporate reputation, only acknowledged the Polish allegations – which date back to 2010-12 – after an investigation by the BBC‘s Panorama programme.
Poland’s fraud squad, the central anti-corruption bureau, on Monday said 13 people had been charged in connection with allegations of doctors being bribed to promote GSK’s asthma drug Seretide.
The UK’s Serious Fraud Office is also understood to be looking at the claims. “We are aware of the case,” a SFO source said. The SFO refused to confirm or deny that it was investigating the matter.
Analysts at Panmure Gordon said: “In isolation, the events in Poland are trivial but evidence is building up of sharp practices in many areas of GSK’s organisation which will impact sentiment significantly.” GSK’s shares dropped 1% to £15.43.
GSK admitted on Monday that it had brought in private detectives to investigate the Polish claims in 2011 and “found evidence of inappropriate communication in contravention of GSK policy by a single employee. The employee concerned was reprimanded and disciplined in 2011.”
The company said it was continuing to investigate the claims and was “co-operating fully with the CBA”. However, GSK failed to inform the public or its shareholders of the Polish investigation until Monday despite chief executive Sir Andrew Witty promising to reform the organisation in the wake of the “shameful” and “deeply disappointing” allegations in China.
GSK only revealed details of the allegations following the Panorama investigation, broadcast on BBC1 on Monday.
In the Panorama programme Jarek Wisniewski, a former GSK sales representative in the Polish region of Lodz, said GSK staff paid doctors to give speeches which did not take place. “We pay agreement for a speech, we pay £100 but we expect more than 100 prescriptions for this drug.”
Wisniewski said his regional manager told them to do it, and that he blew the whistle to GSK. He said this resulted in his being sidelined at work and eventually sacked.
The public prosecutor for Lodz said: “We have evidence to claim in more than a dozen cases it was a camouflaged form of a bribe. In return for the financial gains the doctors would favour the product proposed by the pharmaceutical company and they prescribed that medicine.”
GSK refused to explain why it did not publicly disclose the allegations before being questioned by Panorama. “We disclose significant cases in our annual report where they have the potential to have a material impact on the company,” a spokesman said. The report lists a total of 161 staff violations of sales and marketing practices, resulting in 48 people being sacked or leaving the company and 113 formal warnings. In total, 375 employees were sacked or left voluntarily as a result of misconduct.
In December, Witty promised that GSK would stop making any payments to doctors. “We recognise that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest,” he said.
In 2012, GSK paid a record $3bn (£1.9bn) in fines to settle claims that bribed US doctors into prescribing antidepressants for non-approved uses.