GMC is criticised for investments in Nestlé and McDonald’sBMJ 2023; 380 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.p580 (Published 15 March 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p580
- Ronald MacDonald, final year Scottish graduate entry medicine student, Universities of Dundee and St Andrews
Doctors have criticised the General Medical Council after The BMJ found that the regulator had investments in fast food firms, drug companies, private medical insurers, and private healthcare providers.
A freedom of information request showed that it has investments totalling nearly £870 000 (€985 000; $1.05m) in the food and soft drink companies Nestlé, McDonald’s, Starbucks, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Unilever, which owns the ice cream brands Magnum, Wall’s, and Ben & Jerry’s.
The GMC also invested more than £1.2m in drug companies, including Novo Nordisk, AstraZeneca, Merck, and Roche, more than £470 000 in private insurance or healthcare providers such as Humana Health and UnitedHealth Group, and more than £1.3m in medical device manufacturers, including Edwards Lifesciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Intuitive Surgical, the makers of the da Vinci robotic surgical system (box 1).
Some of GMC’s direct investments as at end of January 2023
Unilever (owner of Magnum, Wall’s, and Ben & Jerry’s ice creams)
Intuitive Surgical (makers of Da Vinci)
Thermo Fisher Scientific
The GMC, which charges doctors £161 as a one-off registration fee and then £420 in ongoing annual fees, invests its money through Churches, Charities and Local Authorities Investment Management (CCLA). It told The BMJ that it had a say in what CCLA invested in and access to all decisions through CCLA’s reporting.
It gave CCLA £50m to invest in 2016, which as of March 2023 was worth £57.6m, made up of investments in companies, funds, private equity firms, property, cash, and money market securities. For a full list of the GMC’s investments see Related Content.
Lack of transparency
Doctors have criticised the investments because of the link between fast food and soft drink companies’ products and rising rates of obesity worldwide and because the investments are not published on the GMC’s website.1
Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, “Many doctors whose work involves dealing with the harms caused by junk food marketing would, if they knew, despair at how their money is being invested.
“I have previously raised concerns about the GMC’s accountability,2 but accountability requires transparency.”
Sam Everington, a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London, and chair of the Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, said, “The GMC is funded by doctors in the UK. They would be horrified to know that their money is being invested in fast food companies that are the cause of so much disease and reduced quality and quantity of life and significantly more pressure on the NHS and workload of doctors. This is no different to investing in tobacco companies.”
Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow and a researcher at the University of St Andrews, said, “Practising UK doctors have no choice but to pay substantial annual fees to the GMC. The organisation must show that it is using its funds wisely, and I’m not convinced it is. It is unclear to me why the GMC holds so much money and why it has chosen to invest as it has. When the chief executive is paid over a quarter of a million per year, and a further six staff on more than £200 000, doctors should know, with complete transparency, where their fees are being invested and why.”
A GMC spokesperson told The BMJ that as a registered charity it had a duty to make sure it protects and maintains the value of its financial assets. CCLA works with companies such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola to urge them to commit themselves to producing healthier products that are more accessible and more affordable, the spokesperson added. “We apply a number of ethical restrictions to the types of companies CCLA invests in on our behalf,” they said. “This includes products and services such as tobacco, alcohol, pornography, gambling and high interest rate lending.
“In addition, we are able to exclude companies where we have concerns about their approach to corporation tax.”
CCLA also avoids investing in companies involved with the production of landmines, cluster munitions, and chemical and biological weapons or the extraction of thermal coal or tar sands, the spokesperson added.
The investment policy is reviewed annually by the GMC’s Council, and the spokesperson said that the regulator was considering whether the current exclusions remained relevant. The GMC is also considering publishing its investments on its website after The BMJ pointed out that they were not displayed transparently.
Competing interests: I am a deputy representative on the BMA’s Medical Students Committee. My other interests are disclosed at https://rmacd.com/coi.
This news story has been funded by the BMJ Investigations Unit. For details see bmj.com/investigations.
Correction: On 17 March we corrected the currency conversion in the second paragraph.