Feature Medicine and the Media

Industry sponsorship hits the headlines

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5585 (Published 19 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5585
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. zkmietowicz{at}bmj.com

Media focus on a sponsor of the RCGP conference has raised fresh questions about funding of medical meetings, Zosia Kmietowicz reports

The headlines after the first day of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference at the beginning of October were unexpected. Chair Maureen Baker’s speech to the 1630 registrants was largely overlooked in favour of a story about a flyer included in delegates’ bags from a company called Babylon, which offers consultations to patients through smart phones.

“GPs poached for private work,” was the headline in the Times, while the Daily Mail’s declared “Doctors’ leaders urge them to earn £90k from private sessions online.” The Guardian ran the story under the headline, “GPs offered thousands of pounds to give private consultations via app.”

The stories suggested that GPs were being lured from the NHS with promises of £50-£60 an hour, or £90 000 (€100 000; $110 000) a year if they worked full time, to see private patients from their homes or usual workplace.

Babylon also sponsored a session at the conference on “using technology to improve healthcare on a global scale” and had its logo on the programme and on the RCGP website.

In a statement the RCGP said that Babylon was “working with the NHS in some areas to reduce pressure on GP surgeries by offering virtual consultations.”

It added: “At the moment, general practice in the UK is struggling, and we need to pull out all the stops to recruit as many GPs to the NHS as possible, and retain existing ones. But that is not to say we are in a position to close the doors to opportunities for our members.

“Babylon’s presence at the annual conference is in line with the college’s sponsorship policies.”

The college said that “commercial confidentiality” prevented it from disclosing …

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