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Scottish doctors will have to register financial links to drug companies

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 09 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:69
  1. Bryan Christie
  1. Edinburgh

    Doctors in Scotland are to be required to declare any financial or personal links they have with drug companies on official registers that will be made available for public inspection. The move is part of an agreement between the NHS and the drugs industry on joint working that aims to reduce potential conflicts of interest and improve openness and transparency.

    The agreement is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom and may lead to pressure for similar action elsewhere. Joe Collier, editor of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin and professor of medicines policy at St George's Hospital, London, called for registers to be established across the United Kingdom. “In principle this is a wonderful idea, and I would like to see it extended,” he said.

    The report welcomes joint working between the NHS and the drugs industry and recognises the potential benefit to patients. However, it also acknowledges that the relationship needs to be controlled and recommends the introduction of better monitoring arrangements. NHS boards are instructed to establish registers of interest of all NHS employees' links with drug companies, including share holdings, lecture fees, payments to attend meetings, and research grants. The report also says that offers from drug companies that breach relevant codes of practice must be reported to the relevant NHS organisation and that concerns about the conduct of any company should also be reported.

    The agreement was welcomed by Dr Des Spence, Scottish spokesman for the No Free Lunch movement, which campaigns against doctors accepting money, gifts, or hospitality from the industry. “This is a very positive move,” he said. “It is a good attempt to try to clarify the relationship between the industry and the profession. The only reservation I have is about how it is going to be policed. There is no real clarity about what should and should not be declared, and it is being left up to NHS trusts to police it, which may lead to variations in the way it is applied across the country.”

    Professor Collier also emphasised the importance of defining what needs to be declared and the action that will be taken against anyone found not to be making a full declaration. “It is not all that straightforward. There are edges that need to be looked at seriously.”

    A spokesman for the Department of Health said there were no current plans to introduce a similar system in England.

    A Common Understanding: Guidance on Joint Working between NHSScotland and the Pharmaceutical Industry is available

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