COVID-19 – how pharmaceutical medicine is meeting the challenge

Posted on: Thursday 28 May 2020

Introduction and background to the survey

The FPM is committed to supporting our members in their professional practice, and none more so than at this time, when the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the working lives of almost all of us.

This survey, run between 16th April and the 27th April 2020, had two main parts: the first asked FPM members to relate how COVID-19 is affecting their professional practice – whether it is resulting in more or less trial and medical affairs activities, changing the focus of their work, or whether they have gone back to clinical practice and their experience with this process; the second part of the survey concentrated on what the FPM is doing to support members and whether this is appropriate and adequate, and what could be modified.

The survey was distributed to all members globally (1523), with 197 respondents completing the survey (13% of members). The demographics of the respondents quite closely mapped the demographics of the FPM at large.

Survey graphic

Survey headlines


of independent pharmaceutical physicians are getting fewer contracts and less work


of FPM members report that COVID-19 outbreak has had an impact on their role to a ‘large’ or ‘very great’ extent


said the FPM COVID email frequency was at an ‘appropriate level’


classify themselves as key workers, and vital to the safe supply of medicines and patient care


said that clinical trials they were working on have been paused or slowed down


have volunteered to return to clinical work in the NHS, with a large proportion of these (43%) saying that their company was actively supportive of this


are commencing new clinical trials related to COVID-19

197 respondents (13% of FPM members)


87% based in UK


37% Female / 61% Male


26% independent consultants



73% company employees


1% retirees


In which field/s do you work?

We asked you to select all that apply

12% Clinical pharmacology

46% Clinical trials / clinical development

38% Medical affairs / Medical communications

19% Pharmacovigilance

12% Regulatory affairs

12% 'Other' (mixture of Finance / Academia / Clinical / Medical writing / Medicolegal etc)

How is COVID affecting FPM members’ work and employment?

When asked to explain in more detail how COVID-19 is affecting their work, 61% of independent pharmaceutical physicians are getting fewer contracts and less work and 47% of company employees are saying it has changed the focus of their work.

When the results were analysed by gender, they showed insignificant difference when comparing the experiences of men and women.

Segmentation by age range shows that younger members consider themselves affected to a greater extent. 47% of under 45-year-olds reported a ‘large’ or ‘very great’ impact on their roles, compared with 43% overall.

Based upon the Government’s rules on key workers, a guideline for which pharmaceutical company employees would be classified has been developed. The key workers include those involved in the safety and monitoring of medicines, those conducting research and those in a clinical setting, who have contact with patients. Based on these criteria, 29% of respondents are classified as key workers.

12% are commencing new clinical trials related to COVID-19.

Is FPM providing the right support to our members?

95% said the email frequency from the FPM related to COVID-19 was at an ‘appropriate level’. However, most respondents would not recommend the FPM COVID-19 resource webpage to colleagues, with a ‘net promoter score’ of -35. Reasons given were that the same information could be found elsewhere, there was overlap of information and that the FPM should focus on providing original content or content specifically relevant to FPM activities.

More than half of responders – 54% – would consider attending a virtual FPM event.

Several of those members planning to take the DPM exam and those undertaking the PMST training programme asked for more support from the FPM. Specifically, as much flexibility as possible and in the provision of virtual courses and online learning.

How are pharmaceutical physicians supporting the NHS?

39% of UK respondents said they had volunteered for clinical work via the NHS portal. 15% of these volunteers have now completed the process and are currently being employed by the NHS, some in front line clinical work.

A significant proportion of respondents – 43% – related that their company was actively supportive of their intention to return to work in the NHS. 15% of these said that they have been offered a period of paid leave, of up to 16 weeks in some cases, to undertake NHS work. Only 3% of respondents said that their company was not supportive of their return to the NHS.

Conclusions and next steps

The results of this survey are both encouraging and concerning at the same time.

Encouraging as they demonstrate the enormous effort that FPM members are putting into tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether they are classified as a key worker and are vital in the safe use and delivery of medicines, or they are actively undertaking clinical trials in COVID-19, or they have put their regular jobs on hold or come out of retirement to volunteer to re-join the NHS, pharmaceutical physicians are throwing themselves into the effort.

However, the results are also concerning. A large proportion of members are seeing their working practices radically changed, some have been furloughed or even made redundant. A lot of clinical trials have been put on hold and medical marketing activities paused, and this will surely have a serious effect on the regular drug pipeline, affecting patients in other disease areas, once the COVID-19 peak has passed.

Now that we have a better understanding of the FPM members’ situation and their needs, we will take steps to adapt and innovate in both our internal and external work. Like many organisations at this time, the FPM is facing increased pressure on our resources, and we will use the learnings from this survey to ensure prudent and effective management, to deliver for our members and the public.

Specifically, we will aim to:

Continue to provide high quality communications that inform, educate and add value

Ensure that FPM exams and training programmes continue as effectively and smoothly as possible

Deliver virtual events that meet the educational and professional development needs of FPM members and other stakeholders

Reorganise the FPM COVID-19 resource page so that it matches FPM members’ needs

Continue to work closely with Government, industry and other stakeholders in the health sector to ensure that the full range of unique skills and knowledge that pharmaceutical physicians possess are utilised to best effect to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

Please let us know if you have any further questions or comments, or wish to get more involved in any of these activities. Email