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Call for GMC to register doctors’ competing interests

Claim that prescribing is influenced by big pharma fees

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 16 January 2014

British Doctors and academics, have this week written an open letter calling on the General Medical Council to set up a central registry of doctors’ competing interests.

In the letter, published in the BMJ, clinicians and researchers, including GPs, psychiatrists, public health experts and epidemiologists, among others, cite The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s estimate that some £40m is paid by the drug industry to doctors for speaking fees, flights, hotels and other travel expenses.

“Yet who is being paid what is opaque. It is clear that exposure to pharmaceutical advertising adversely affects future prescribing,” state the 15 signatories.

The letter further points out that citizens can access MPs’ central register of their financial conflicts of interest, yet patients cannot find out whether their doctor has a financial conflict of interest.

It says the current system of self-declaration “is variable, opaque, and unreliable” and that “there is a need for change.”

The authors urge the GMC to consult on this, saying: “this transparency can only be good for medical practice. It may cause discomfort for a few but would enhance trust in the profession as a whole.”

They invite doctors to register their declarations of interests publicly at www.whopaysthisdoctor.org and conclude: “We anticipate that, in time, a public declaration of interests will be seen as the right thing for all professionals to make.”

Commenting to OnMedica, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC said: “We do not have powers to require doctors to disclose financial interests to us and would need a change in legislation to do this. However, our guidance does make clear that doctors must be open and honest about any financial and commercial interests, and they must not allow these to affect the way they treat, refer, or commission services for, patients.

He added: “We are committed to reviewing our register to make sure it as relevant, accessible and useful as possible. This is a major piece of work but it will include considering whether we should keep a register of interests.”   

The open letter in the BMJ ties in with an article questioning whether patients can trust doctors with ties to drug companies. In a personal view, published on bmj.com, emergency physician Leana Wen, from George Washington University, US, calls on doctors to fully disclose any conflicts of interest to patients in order to build on patient trust.


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