Since 2015, UK’s royal colleges have granted more than £9 million in marketing payments from pharmaceutical and medical device firms. However, these payments are not always disclosed to the public, as revealed by an investigation Royal Colleges Receive Millions payment Disclosure Gaps Found.
Investigative journalist HristoBoychev asked the colleges to reveal all payments from industry, campaign groups, or patient associations, along with the specific amounts received from each donor. However, all of them refused to comply.
Instead, data was gathered from Disclosure UK, a website managed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), and Transparent medTech, un by medTech Europe, the European trade association for medical device companies.
This data indicated that pharmaceutical companies contributed £7.5 million between 2015 and 2022, with over half going to the Royal College of Physicians (£2.8 million) and the Royal College of GPs (£2.4 million). Royal Colleges Receive Millions payment Disclosure Gaps Found These funds were primarily for sponsoring events, making donations and grants, and engaging in joint ventures.
Pfizer emerged as the leading donor, providing £1.8 million, followed by Novo Nordisk with £730,000 and Daiichi Sankyo with £478,000.
From 2017 to 2021, medical device companies declared a total of £1.7 million in payments to royal colleges under “educational grants” and “support for educational events.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners received the highest amount, totalling £674,000. Following this, the Royal College of Surgeons (England) was granted £414,000, while the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh obtained £227,000. Significantly,
over 90% of these funds originated from only two contributors: Johnson & Johnson and thermo Fisher Scientific, who provided £905,000 and £644,000 correspondingly.
It’s important to note that colleges are not obligated to disclose these payments. Instead of being included in their annual reports, these payments are only accessible through voluntary transparency initiatives within the industry.
In response, the colleges conveyed that payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies constitute a small fraction of their overall budgets.
They also emphasised the existence of clear governance rules regarding industry payments. On the flip side, the companies transparently disclose that they make all payments to the colleges with the intention of enhancing patient care.
However, these industry transparency initiatives, which offer the only means for the public to access information about college payments, Royal Colleges Receive Millions payment Disclosure Gaps Found come with significant limitations. For instance, the ABPI only retains payment data for the most recent three years, deleting historical information.
Emma Hardy, Labour MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Surgical Mesh Implants contends that nothing less than complete and mandatory disclosure is warranted.
She emphasises that in medical science, where lives are at stake, patients must have confidence that they receive the best possible treatment for genuine reasons.
Margaret McCartney, a former trustee and council member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a general practitioner herself, contends that even when information is labelled as independent,
funding skews the prioritisation of certain types of education or information. It compromises independence and is detrimental to the profession. Notably, the UK Department of Health has recently launched a public consultation on enforcing the mandatory disclosure of industry payments to the healthcare sector – a practice in the US as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act.
Susan Bewley, honorary professor emeritus in Obstetrics and Women’s Health at King’s College London and former chair of the transparency initiative health sense-UK, expresses disappointment in the lack of complete and detailed disclosure from Royal Colleges.
She stresses the necessity for patients to trust medical institutions that provide education, create guidelines, and implement practices based on the best available evidence, free from lobbying influences.
While transparency represents a positive step, Margaret McCartney raises the question of whether it can alleviate the influence of bias on patients. UK and identifies complexities in declaring and managing conflicts of interest among healthcare professionals, Royal Colleges Receive Millions payment Disclosure Gaps Found In an accompanying feature, she examines the situation in the UK and identifies complexities in declaring and managing conflicts.
She advocates for a consistent approach but suggests that unless new declaration systems can effectively balance the negative influences of conflicts, they might not yield significant results.
A linked study published in a medical journal investigates whether professionals and laypeople can locate and comprehend declarations of interest made by UK professionals.
The study highlights the necessity of declarations of interest and underscores that conflicts of interest raise concerns for patients and professionals, given their impact on trust in decision-making. However, the study finds that the current declarations,
meant to enhance transparency, do not achieve this goal due to challenges in locating and understanding them.
The authors propose the need for greater clarity about the goals of transparency and suggest that future policies should focus on minimising the potential effects of conflicts of interest rather than relying solely on individuals to uncover and interpret declarations.