The Medical Council, which polices doctors' behaviour, has issued new guidance on the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

Its president, Prof Kieran Murphy, said that while it is important for doctors to keep up to date on new product developments, their contacts with drug and medical device companies must not affect their ability to provide impartial treatment.

He said the public must be confident that their doctors' professional opinion is not influenced by marketing or promotional activities.

The guide says that most GPs say they only accept drug samples to use as emergency medication during night calls.

It says that doctors should not accept gifts including hospitality from drug companies or other commercial companies.

However, they can accept reasonable fees for any work they do as part of a contractual arrangement with a company.

The guide warns that, in general, promotional meetings do not give objective educational information and doctors should not use these for continuing professional development points, unless the event has been approved by a professional body.

It says that any payments for travel and accommodation expenses for doctors to attend meetings should go through unrestricted educational and development funds made available by the sponsoring company to the institution which is hosting the conference.

Sales representatives must not use any incentive or ploy to gain an interview with a doctor and the Medical Council would view the charging of fees by doctors for visits by sales representatives as wrong.

Doctors must also ensure that their relationship with any drug, medical device, or other company does not influence the study, design or interpretation of any research data.

The new guide is available on the Medical Council website.