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Some CCGs fail to declare drug company payments

More than £3.7m of undisclosed payments found

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 04 January 2018

An investigation has found that CCGs in England have accepted hundreds of payments from drug companies that they have not disclosed to patients or the public, claims The BMJ.

For its investigation,* published today, The BMJ collaborated with researchers at the University of Bath and Lund University in Sweden.

They received responses from all 207 CCGs in England after making freedom of information (FOI) requests about payments from private companies and charities.

The data were compared with the details published by CCGs in their online public registries of declarations, which include payments from various sources.

NHS England guidance requires CCGs to declare all conflicts of interest and to maintain and publish registers of their conflicts of interest and procurement decisions.

The researchers wanted to investigate long standing concerns about the conflicts of interest among those who commission health services while also providing them.

Responses to the FOI requests showed that publicly declared payments included tickets to sports matches and a pop concert, but only two thirds of the 4,600 payments - and a quarter of the value - that CCGs accepted from private companies and charities in 2015-16 and 2016-17 were listed in registers or declarations published by them.

The findings also showed that a large number of payments went to a handful of organisations, with nine CCGs accounting for half the number of payments received.

The total monetary value of payments identified in CCGs’ publicly available registers that covered either the calendar years 2015 and 2016 or the tax years 2015-16 and 2016-17 was £1.28 million, whereas at least £5.03 million has been identified in the payments listed in responses to The BMJ’s request.

Analysis of the data showed that more than two thirds (73%) of the funding from drug companies was for sponsorship of education and training events.

In their responses, several CCGs said sponsorship arrangements with drug companies allowed them to host more educational events.

However, the researchers said that many CCGs already accepted no payments from charities or private companies.

NHS Hastings and Rother CCG, for example, told The BMJ: “This helps to avoid any potential or real situations of undue bias or influence in the decision making of the membership of the CCG, governing bodies, or staff.”

Piotr Ozieranski, the University of Bath lecturer who was involved in the investigation, said it was inappropriate for commissioning bodies to accept funding from the private sector.

“It seems rather peculiar that CCGs are permitted to accept any payments or benefits in kind from private sector companies,” he said.

The journal said that after being alerted to the omission of information about industry funding on their websites, some CCGs had either published this information or committed themselves to doing so.

A spokesperson for NHS Clinical Commissioners, the independent membership organisation for CCGs said: “This BMJ investigation seems to imply that there is some wrong doing on the part of CCGs by working with external companies and pharmaceutical organisations, which we would strongly challenge.

“The NHS England guidance is clear, as are we, of the benefits to NHS staff and patients of securing the right kind of sponsorship for learning, development and networking opportunities.”

Dr Sheuli Porkess, interim executive director of research, medical & innovation for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said: “Collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals and organisations is vital in the development and delivery of medicines in order to improve outcomes for patients.

“The ABPI shares an ambition with NHS England to see greater transparency and disclosure of information around pharmaceutical industry support to healthcare organisations and health professionals.

“The Disclosure UK database, launched in June 2016, and the updated NHS guidance on conflicts of interest from June 2017 are examples of our shared journey on this topic.”

* Moberly, T. The pharma deals that CCGs fail to declare. BMJ 2018;360:j5915. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j5915.

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