The minister for NHS productivity has revealed that the government may legislate to ensure the relationship between doctors and medical device suppliers is above board.

Lord Prior, in an exclusive interview with HSJ yesterday, confirmed he was considering acting on the suggestion of an English equivalent of the US “Sunshine Act”, made by the review of NHS efficiency by Lord Carter.

The US law was introduced in 2010 and requires all manufacturers of medical devices and supplies to report on financial relationships with physicians and institutions, in order to uncover potential conflicts of interest.

In his first interview since taking up his post six weeks ago, Lord Prior, the former Care Quality Commission chair, told HSJ: “[Lord Carter’s] report talks about the number of sales reps from different companies that are sort-of camped out in some hospitals. He would like to throw some sunshine and transparency into that area.”

David Prior

David Prior said he was ‘not at all against the Sunshine Act in principle’

The minister said the government would make a decision on whether to legislate to create a “Sunshine Act” equivalent before the end of the year. He said he did not have a “firm view” yet, but added: “We may have to do this and actually I am not at all against it in principle.”

He had not yet spoken to representatives of the medical device companies, Lord Prior said.

Lord Carter’s review cited the example of one hospital trust, later revealed to be Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, which had been targeted by 650 sales representatives, and had 65 on site at any one time. The review said: “Those sales forces not only have a big influence on choices made – they also have big costs that in the end we pay for.”

The review said the “proliferation of sales representatives selling in the NHS is a huge cost which neither the NHS or its suppliers want or need if alternative models of doing business could be developed”.

In a statement issued after the release of Lord Carter’s report, the Association of British Healthcare Industries said: “Transparency in the relationship between staff of medical technology companies and clinicians is vital. Organisations on both sides already have systems in place to monitor and record interactions, which comply with the highest ethical standards.”

It said this was already “reinforced by ABHI’s [mandatory] code of business practice” and cited its “accreditation scheme” for medical technology firms.


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