On 26 January 2023, the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (“PMCPA”) published its “Social Media Guidance 2023” (the “Guidance”).
The Guidance is the first of its kind in the UK and is long-awaited.
The PMCPA is the self-regulatory body that administers and enforces the ABPI Code (the voluntary advertising code that many pharmaceutical companies adhere to in the UK). The ABPI Code sets out a number of overarching principles but does not address social media in detail. The PMCPA had some years ago published “digital guidelines” but these were archived for updating.
The first – and probably most important – thing to say about the Guidance is that it (finally) exists. Social media has become a major compliance headache for UK pharmaceutical companies. These days a significant number of PMCPA complaints, investigations and adjudications concern corporate or employee social media activity, particularly on LinkedIn. The absence of clear and codified guidance until now led to a lack of clarity. Key regulatory principles had evolved through a series of case rulings, which were often highly fact-dependent. While dissecting cases into the early hours may be interesting for us pharmaceutical advertising lawyers, compliance teams will likely appreciate having codified guidelines to refer to.
Secondly, the Guidance is likely to disappoint anyone hoping for seismic shifts in the PMCPA’s regulatory approach. Much of the Guidance aligns closely to rules and principles that had developed in the Authority’s case history. It also broadly aligns with EFPIA’s and IFPMA’s recently published “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Social Media and Digital Media Channels” (see our blog post).