Today the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry calls for the implementation of a UK Sunshine Act to make transparent the financial relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical companies & the makers of medical devices.
It would be similar to the The Physician Payments Sunshine Act in the United States which was implemented by the Obama administration August 2013, and which requires all payments exceeding $10 to be disclosed via a publicly accessible website. Equivalent legislation also operates in the France, Australia and the Netherlands.
This call by CEP is a response to long-held concerns regarding the biasing effects of payments to doctors via consultancy fees, speakers’ fees, honoraria, shares/stock options as well as research funding.
While it has long been known that financial ties with industry can unduly influence medical practice and research, there is no legal obligation for UK doctors to report how much income they receive and from whom. There is however a voluntary register of interests (the ABPI register), but the lack of legislation means that not all payments are recorded and it is impossible to rely on this data when investigating industry ties.
A UK Sunshine Act should be considered a positive step forward for both patients and doctors, as it will enable both groups to understand better the relationships between key opinion leaders and drug makers. However while such an act will serve as a deterrent to inappropriate financial relationships between doctors and industry, we accept that it will be insufficient to counter other conflicts of interest.
A new act should therefore work alongside other measures to be truly effective. For example there should be a prohibition of gifts and commercial sponsorship of doctor training events; the banning of pharmaceutical industry representatives and drug samples from clinical settings; the requirement for conflicts of interest to be declared in relevant settings (for example in news articles); regulatory structures that are independent of industry influence.
Dr James Davies, co-founder of CEP, says: ‘We place great trust in our medical and healthcare professionals, and this trust is usually justified. However we know from previous research that payments from industry can influence medical practice. For this reason we are calling for full public disclosure of such payments via a UK Sunshine Act to help ensure that anyone needing care receives unbiased & impartial advice and treatment.’