Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors’ conflicts of interest

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 21 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3247
  1. Helen Macdonald, UK research editor1,
  2. Margaret McCartney, honorary fellow2,
  3. Carl Heneghan, director2,
  4. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief1
  1. 1The BMJ, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to: F Godlee fgodlee{at}

The mesh scandal has shown that a register is now essential

The report of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review,1 chaired by Julia Cumberlege, examines how England’s health system responded to reports of harm linked to the hormone pregnancy test Primodos, the anti-epileptic drug sodium valproate taken in pregnancy, and pelvic mesh. One of the report’s nine recommendations is that the General Medical Council’s register “should be expanded to include a list of financial and non-pecuniary interests for all doctors. The public has a right to know.” The review team listened to the views of a wide range of patients, one of whom said: “We should be aware of clinicians’ allegiances or involvements whether they be financial or other so we too can reach informed decisions about who is best to treat us, and how they should treat us.”

Moral arguments for transparency aside, there is little debate that relevant financial or other professional and intellectual interests can, and have, distorted medical research, education, guidelines, and practice.2 The idea of transparency of interests is far from new. Cumberledge writes that “we have found ourselves in the position of recommending, encouraging and urging the system to take action that should have been taken long ago.” The House of Commons Health Select Committee recommended a GMC declaration register in 2013,3 with similar registers to …

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