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Peeking at the payments made to doctors

By Tim Sandle     Jul 13, 2016 in Health
London - New figures, relating to the U.K., reveal some of the payments made by pharmaceutical companies to the medical profession. The key word is “some”, since the declarations remain voluntary.
The world of corporate lobbying and entertainment reaches into many industrial spheres. The one that the public seems to react most to is the medical world, where pharmaceutical companies ‘entertain’ medics.
In recent years many countries have introduced legislation which requires payments to be declared. This has been led by the U.S. due to legislation initiated by Barack Obama. The U.K. has recently embarked on a similar scheme, although it is based on medical and healthcare professionals giving their permission.
The database is a voluntary scheme operated by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (@ABPI_UK). The aim is to show the payments and benefits-in-kind being given by pharmaceutical companies firms to doctors, nurses and NHS officials across the country. However, medical and healthcare staff can opt not to be included. The types of things declared include payments for advisory work, travel and conferences.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the extent of non-disclosures is estimated to be worth £111 million (around $150 million). This represents 33 percent of the amount paid out during 2015. This means, £237 million has been declared. The biggest spender was AstraZeneca, with £42 million (12 percent of the drug company spend).
The general reason given by healthcare staff who did not wish to be included relates to concerns over data protection. The problem is this gives the impression that there is, perhaps, something to hide.
All pharmaceutical companies have declared all payments where an individual has given his or her consent. Where an individual has not been disclosed, the pharmaceutical company was not able to pass on the information due to the individual being covered by the U.K. Data Protection Act.
A spokesperson from the U.K. health service said that, with the concept now established, pharmaceutical firms should refuse to offer payments to any medical person who did not sign up for the voluntary scheme. The National Health Service issued a statement: “The ABPI publication is an important step forward in terms of transparency, but is not yet the complete solution. Voluntary disclosure does not go far enough, and all companies should follow industry leaders in refusing to fund individuals who decline to be transparent about their payments."
However, neither the health service nor the governing body for medical doctors has the authority to force medical staff to sign up.
While those that have declared their payments or sponsorship are now in the public domain, it remains a challenge for patients to check what their individual medical doctor may or may not have received. According to industry expert Leela Barnham: “Those who want to take a look at the database have two options: to interrogate the database via its online portal or to download the database content in an Excel spreadsheet.” This won’t be an easy task, given there are 50,000 rows of data to shift through.
The database can be downloaded on the ABPI website. Meanwhile payments made to doctors by drugs companies is a hot topic on Twitter.
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