Survey finds support for payments to doctors from commercial companies to be made public

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 09 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6093
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

Almost 80% of doctors, drug industry workers, and their representative organisations believe that payments to doctors by commercial organisations should be disclosed on a single, publicly searchable database, shows research published this week by the Ethical Standards in Health and Life Sciences Group (ESHLSG).

The survey, including responses from healthcare organisations, private companies, NHS and private doctors, academics, and drug industry staff, found that 89% of 1056 respondents agreed that payments to individually named healthcare professionals by companies should be transparent, and 79% agreed that payments should be disclosed on a central, publicly searchable database.1

The consultation is important, because the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, the body that represents the industry across Europe, announced in July that its members must disclose details of payments to individual healthcare professionals from 2016.2 But individual countries have yet to determine how exactly they will comply.

Respondents had no common view on who in the United Kingdom should host such a database, with those from commercial companies favouring either a professional body or a trade body and individuals favouring an independent regulator.

Tim Evans of the Royal College of Physicians, co-chairman of the Ethical Standards on Health and Life Sciences Group, told the BMJ that although the group’s research showed widespread support for such a system, it was not clear who should be in charge of it.

“Are we, the RCP, going to take that on? Could we take that on?” he asked. “No, it should be the General Medical Council (GMC), we think.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners also recommended that the GMC should host the searchable database.

The GMC had not commented by the time the BMJ went to press.

The Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that such a role was beyond its remit and suggested that the Department of Health would be more suitable.

“There is a lot of good information from the consultation that will inform how we do financial disclosures moving forward,” said Deepak Khanna, co-chairman of the ESHSLG and president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which funded the research. “Whether it’s the MHRA or whoever is going to mandate this, this [research] will influence those decisions,” he said.

Some 70% of respondents said that public disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals would have no effect on their future collaboration with commercial organisations. A sixth (16%) said that public disclosure of payments would make them less likely to collaborate in paid activities.

The survey was completed between January and July 2013. The results will be the last to be published by the ESHLSG, whose co-chairmen told the BMJ this week that it was disbanding.3 The group also published findings of a consultation on the role of drug industry sponsored medical education that had already been presented at a joint BMJ and Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry conference in September.4

The ESHLSG, which brought together leading healthcare bodies and pharmaceutical associations, had hoped to produce policy on certain issues, not just research. But its co-chairmen said this week that they had realised this would not be possible because of the different agendas and different regulatory structures of its members and the need to involve many more organisations in each specific issue.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6093


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