New figures show that last year, doctors in the UK received approximately £40 million from big pharmaceutical companies. According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), a trade body representing pharmaceutical companies, both National Health Service (NHS) and private staff were paid the sum for consultancies and sponsorships and other interactions with drug businesses in 2012. These figures were released by ABPI as part of its ongoing transparency drive and are based on disclosures of 35 of the top 44 firms (as rated by sales size) in the country who had shared precise information with the body and estimates for the rest.
Payments were made to doctors for “attending medical education events, support such as training and development, as well as fees for services such as speaking engagements to share good clinical practice and participation in advisory boards,” a spokesman said in a press release issued by the Independent.
Pharma’s intention was originally to foster relationships with healthcare professionals, particularly the doctors, by financially supporting meetings, and indirectly marketing its products to them through educational seminars because the doctors are the ones who would prescribe their medicines. However, such practice has not always been transparent and there are concerns that the industry’s reputation is declining as a result.
In January, it was announced that leaders of the medical profession and pharmaceutical industries are examining the issue of whether doctors paid by drug companies should declare their dealings on a public register. Disclosure of payments would mark a significant step towards greater transparency, according to the Ethical Standards in Health and Life Sciences Group. The working group, which includes the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and ABPI, launched the consultation to see whether doctors themselves should declare payments.
“Full transparency about these relationships is right and appropriate and we have taken the lead to make this a reality. By publishing these figures, the industry’s aim is to ensure these vital relationships are open and transparent,” said Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of ABPI in a press statement. “It is right that professionals are reimbursed fairly for the time and expertise they regularly provide the industry in developing the next generation of medicines.”
For the first time, payments made to doctors and other healthcare professionals by pharmaceutical companies have been published. While the figures are currently anonymous, from 2016 onwards, ABPI will publish the names of companies as part of an EU initiative to promote relationship transparency. ABPI also added that companies plan to show how many healthcare professionals are on their payrolls.