Observations Open Letter to the General Medical Council

Why the GMC should set up a central registry of doctors’ competing interests

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g236 (Published 15 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g236
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow,
  2. Ben Goldacre, Wellcome research fellow in epidemiology,
  3. Iain Chalmers, coordinator, James Lind Library,
  4. Carl Reynolds, NIHR academic clinical fellow in occupational lung disease, Imperial College London,
  5. Jonathan Mendel, social geographer,
  6. Sam Smith, freelance transparency consultant (formerly of the campaigning group Privacy International),
  7. Susan Bewley, professor of complex obstetrics, King’s College London,
  8. Peter Gordon, consultant psychiatrist, NHS Forth Valley,
  9. David Carroll, medical student, Queen’s University, Belfast,
  10. Ben J F Dean, orthopaedic research fellow, University of Oxford,
  11. Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary healthcare and dean for research impact, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry,
  12. Iona Heath, retired general practitioner,
  13. Martin McKee, professor of European public health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
  14. Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy, Queen Mary University of London,
  15. Sian Gordon, GP and GP appraiser, Falkirk
  1. Correspondence to: M McCartney margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

This transparency can only be good for medical practice

Dear sir

Trust between patients and doctors is critical to good medical practice, and doctors are still highly trusted by the public.1 But we should ensure that we deserve it. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has estimated that the drug industry pays £40m (€48m; $65m) a year to doctors for speaking fees, flights, hotels, and other travel expenses.2 Yet who is being paid what is opaque. It is clear that exposure to pharmaceutical advertising adversely affects future prescribing.3 4 There is also evidence that if doctors accept gifts from the drug industry, patients trust doctors less.5 Citizens can access MPs’ central register of their financial conflicts of interest,6 yet patients cannot find out whether their doctor has a financial conflict of interest. The vast majority of doctors will be receiving no payments from any organisation other than their employer or the NHS. Some will receive fees for their expertise from NHS or non-NHS organisations. Others will be receiving some pharmaceutically sponsored education. A few will be receiving large amounts for assisting pharmaceutical or other companies with their profile and sales of their products.

The …

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