The British Pharmaceutical Industry Association’s (ABPI) recent roundtable meeting with key royal medical colleges and healthcare professional bodies has shown a positive commitment to increasing transparency when it comes to payments to doctors.

The talks focused on the development of a central database by the ABPI which can be easily searched to track payments from pharmaceutical companies to doctors. By exposing themselves on the public database, pharmaceutical companies will ensure they are compliant with the ABPI’s code that falls in line with regulations at the European level, ensuring that all payments to doctors are made public by 2016.

The roundtable talks also raised the issue of data protection: pharmaceutical companies will need to ensure they remain compliant with data protection laws and therefore consent from healthcare professionals will need to be obtained before any financial relationship are disclosed. The ABPI has therefore been working on developing a model clause that can be used in order to ensure consent is obtained. The clause explains to the healthcare professional what type of personal information will be collected by the company and how this data will be stored and used. It also stipulates that data may be used by affiliates and/or any third party providing services to a pharmaceutical company, who may be established in jurisdictions outside the European Economic Area (EEA). It warns, however, that such jurisdictions outside the EEA may not provide the same or adequate protection for such personal data.

Such ‘consent’ is one way to fulfil the legal requirement under the UK’s Protection Act 1998 that data processing is fair and lawful. In particular, consent must informed, specific and freely given and the model clause intends to fulfil that requirement. For example, where the agreement is with an identifiable individual they must be informed of their rights to request correction/deletion of information held. If the healthcare professional cannot be identified for legal reasons, such as situations where the healthcare professional declines to give consent under data protection legislation, the ABPI code allows for transfers of value to be reported on an aggregate basis so that pharmaceutical companies would not be in breach of their disclosure obligations.

Nevertheless, the ABPI is clear that the future needs to a transparent one. Since it is within the right of every HCP to withdraw or withhold his/her consent to disclose financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, facilitating a culture within the medical community where financial disclosure is accepted as the norm will be extremely important component of successful individual disclosures in 2016. The ABPI have announced that it will continue to engage with the key players in the medical community to “agree how we can partner together to support and encourage a culture where financial disclosure is the standard.”


The author

Ruth KnowlesRuth Knowles is a freelance science writer who has written articles and press releases on a range of life science and health topics. She received her MSc in Science Communication from the University of the West of England, Bristol.