NHS England says pharma firms’ new transparency scheme ”does not go far enough” because it relies on voluntary disclosure by clinicians of payments received

Health professionals and organisations received £340m from industry in 2015

NHS England urges companies to refuse to fund individuals who ‘decline to be transparent’

New measures introduced by drugs firms to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest when payments are made to NHS clinicians have been criticised by NHS England as not going far enough.

A new database of payments to clinicians, which has been launched by the pharmaceutical industry, relies on voluntary disclosure. This means doctors, nurses and pharmacists do not have to be named as having received funding from drugs companies if they do not want to be. 

NHS England has called on pharmaceutical firms to refuse to fund individuals who “decline to be transparent about their payments”.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry launched ‘Disclosure UK’ last week.

In 2015 industry spent £340m on working with health professionals and organisations, of which £229m was for research and new medicines development.

The remaining £111m covered payment to individuals including consultancy fees, and travel and accommodation expenses.

Disclosure of payments on a named basis is voluntary – if a clinician witholds their consent to be named then the payment is only shown in aggregate on the database and not linked to a specific person.

The ABPI estimates that 70 per cent of clinicians have given their consent to be named on the database, but said the 30 per cent who opted against disclosure accounted for 50 per cent of payments received from industry.

NHS England said the current voluntary scheme did not go far enough.

A spokeswoman for the organisation told HSJ: “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.”

Sir Malcolm Grant, NHS England’s chair, is currently leading a “task and finish” group to establish a full set of rules for the healthcare system regulating conflicts of interest.

The NHS England spokeswoman said that Sir Malcolm’s group would make recommendations on “what and how information [on payments] should mandatorily be published across NHS organisations”.

Commenting on the launch of Disclosure UK, Mike Thompson, the ABPI’s chief executive, said: “This is a milestone moment for transparency in our industry and for the vital partnerships we have with health professionals and organisations across the UK.

“These partnerships matter and help our industry bring the right medicine to the right patient at the right time so we can improve quality of life and, in many cases, save lives.

“Getting advice from doctors, nurses and health professionals across the NHS helps us do this – we can’t do it alone.”