Pharmaceutical companies ‘should disclose payments to doctors’
By Charlotte Lomas, news correspondent
Pharmaceutical companies that pay healthcare professionals to use their products should disclose their transactions, according to leading medical experts.
They want the financial relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, nurses and research organisations such as universities to be held in a register which the public can access and therefore judge if there is a potential conflict of interest.
Dr Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said the current absence of transparency is creating a lack of trust in healthcare.
He told Sky News: "It's really important that the public trust how we deliver medicines and no one really has an understanding at the moment of who is being paid what.
"There is evidence that conflict of interest distorts results and clinical practice because there is so much money in healthcare – there's a real incentive for industry to get their product out there.
"We need a new movement to restore trust in medicine. In America they brought forward the Sunshine Act, and we are calling for the UK version where it is mandatory for all industry who make payments to disclose to a central registry those payments and name the individuals or organisations."
A close working relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare sector is important as it enables the innovation of new products and can widen the choice of medicines available to a patient.
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There is already a database of payments and benefits in kind made by the pharmaceutical industry to healthcare practitioners and organisations called Disclosure UK, which was set up by Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, and The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) in 2015 to encourage transparency and highlight the benefits of this financial relationship.
While it is widely welcomed as a positive step forward, many healthcare professionals feel it doesn't go far enough as not all payments are broken down to show details of where the funding goes and almost half of the beneficiaries do not agree for their information to be made public.
The chief executive of the ABPI, Mike Thompson, said the responsibility is on the healthcare professional to reveal their payments, and he encourages them to do so.
He said: "We set up Disclosure UK to explain to the public how we develop and discover medicines. I feel it is a positive thing for doctors to disclose their payments and there is nothing to be ashamed of, they should be proud of their work."
"We work with leading clinicians, nurses and NHS trusts. We can't do it on our own and its only right we pay them for the time and expertise they bring."
Dr Piotr Ozieranski from the University of Bath has carried out his own research into the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the healthcare sector and told Sky News that the picture is far from clear.
He said: "Obviously drug companies are corporations – they are profit driven and they want to deliver value for their shareholders.
"Therefore there might be a disjuncture between their interests, for example, promoting safe and efficient treatments on one hand and on the other making profit. This makes some of the payments controversial."
Dr Ozieranski points to the payments made to research and development (R&D) as being a main obstacle.
He said: "The basic fact is that without the full transparency of research and development payments which constitutes a vast share of the financial relationships, our picture of the financial relationships between the pharma industry and the healthcare sector is incomplete."