Patients not told about doctors’ big pharma conflicts of interest – new study

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Hospitals are failing to inform patients when doctors responsible for choosing their drugs have received thousands of pounds from pharmaceutical companies, a new study reveals.

A survey in the British Medical Journal shows just six per cent of NHS trusts publish their register of gifts and hospitality online and that the majority make it practically impossible for patients to determine if there is a conflict of interest.

Since 2010, direct gifts and inducements have been banned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), following a Telegraph investigation.

But clinicians may receive payments for a variety of reasons, such as delivering lectures, or attending conferences and training events, which often come with lavish hospitality.

In 2017 the pharmaceutical industry reported spending £116 million on such activity.

Despite rules by the General Medical Council requiring healthcare providers to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, the new research by Oxford University found that around two thirds of the trusts fail to record the names of the of the doctors who had received hospitality.

The researchers are now calling for Britain to adopt legislation similar to the US “Sunshine Act”, which requires all payments to doctors to be declared onto a single searchable database.

Their investigation established that seven NHS trusts described or returned no entries on their conflict of interest registrs, yet ABPI data showed that employees at the organisations had between them received payments amounting to £119,851.

They also discovered 107 records of payments made directly to these trusts, averaging out at £22, 293 per trust.

“Despite obligations on healthcare professionals to disclose conflicts of interest, and on organisations to record these, the current system for logging and tracking such disclosures is not functioning adequately,” they said.

“The ongoing absence of transparency around COI in the UK may undermine public trust in the healthcare professions.

“Simple clear legislation and a requirement for open disclosure of COI to a central body, similar to that in the US, would present a simple and effective solution.”

The responses showed that most conflict of interest registers were “incomplete by design”, with only 31 of 236 containing enough information to assess conflicts of interest.

One in 10 of the registers didn’t contain recipient or donor names, or the cash amount.

Meanwhile only 15 – six per cent – trusts had their disclosure register publicly available online.

The ABPI register, known as Disclosure UK, was established after a Telegraph investigation into industry practices triggered non-statutory changes in NHS rules.

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