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The Ethical Standards in Health & Life Sciences Group (ESHLSG ) has recently published the results of its consultation on “support for payments to doctors from commercial companies to be made public”. It reveals that almost 80% of doctors, drug industry workers, and their representative organisations believe that payments to doctors by commercial organisations should be disclosed on a single, publicly searchable database.

The objectives of the survey, completed between January and July 2013, were to assess reactions of individuals, commercial and healthcare organisations towards public disclosure but also to understand the potential impact that public disclosure of payments could have on individuals’ collaboration with commercial organisations. The issue of who should host the platform for public disclosure was also raised. This survey is important because of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) new Disclosure Code which requires every local affiliate to be in charge of the individual public disclosure of transfers of value made by pharmaceutical companies to healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations.

 

Survey results

The survey found that there is “almost universal agreement that payments should be transparent” with 89% of 1056 respondents agreeing that payments to individually named healthcare professionals by companies should be transparent, and 79% agreeing that payments should be disclosed on a central, publicly searchable database.

The other big issue is about who should host this unique centralised database. On this question, respondents had no common view with mixed answers attributing this role either to the General Medical Council (GMC) or to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) or again to the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

On the impact of public disclosure on future collaboration with commercial organisations, 70% of respondents said that public disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals would have no effect on their future collaboration with commercial organisations. A sixth (16%) said that public disclosure of payments would make them less likely to collaborate in paid activities.

The ESHLSG had hoped to produce policy on certain issues but its co-chairmen said that they had realised this would not be possible because of the different agendas and different regulatory structures of its members and the need to involve many more organisations in each specific issue.

 

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Code change

ABPI member companies have agreed changes to amend the ABPI Code of Practice for the pharmaceutical industry to include greater transparency on payments made to healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations. ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead said that “for too long the industry has suffered from a common misunderstanding around the nature of its relationship with healthcare professionals“. These “are proper and play a vital part” in ensuring those concerned “understand the detail of new medicines to support future R&D and improve the quality of patient care“.

The changes to the Code are part of the industry’s attempt to address this misunderstanding and to enhance transparency around these relationships.

Following the survey’s results, the ABPI and other relevant organisations will now engage further with relevant stakeholders. It is anticipated that the 2015 ABPI Code will include requirements about the method of disclosure. As with all changes to the Code there will be a consultation and it is likely that this will be in summer 2014.

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