While the U.K. figure appears high, in the U.S. the estimate is $1.5 billion per year. This was by European companies alone, in 2014. The figures have been revealed under a change to the U.S. law, with the intention of making the payments more transparent. This was the 2010 Affordable Care Act (otherwise called the “Sunshine Act.”)
According to PharmaFile, a sizeable proportion of the $1.5 billion went on: “The fees were paid to doctors for travel and entertainment, consultancy services and promotional speeches surrounding drugs, and for facilitating clinical trials for new drugs.”
The figures were subsequently broken down into:
$803.49 million in royalty or licensing payments.
$369.44 million in consulting fees.
$403.64 million on expenses for drink, food, travel and accommodation.
There was also a category for “entertainment,” where one payment included a $65 massage.
The Act was passed because of concerns that prescribing decisions made by medics might be influenced by being entertained or sponsored by a particular pharmaceutical company. This was denied, at the time, by the representatives from the pharmaceutical sector who argued that the promotion and marketing of medications, to bring them to the attention of medics, is an important part of the process and was ultimately in the best interest of patients.
With the U.K. figures, a separate PharmaFile report shows that the payments amounted to:
£30.2 million for consultancy services.
£10.8 million “meetings” involving 28,556 ‘healthcare professionals.’
The U.K. figures are more obfuscated than the U.S. ones. Many of the “meetings, for instance, will involve some form of “entertainment.” However, in June 2016 this could become more transparent. This is when a new code will be implemented for companies that are members of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, where a fuller-breakdown of figures will need to be made each year.