Karen Borrer, Head of Reputation for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), talks about the launch of the Disclosure UK database and the move towards greater transparency in healthcare.

There is a long and highly successful history of collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, nurses and health professionals on the front line of patient care in the UK. Collaboration has cultivated innovation in medicine and treatments that improve – and even save – millions of lives every year.

Collaboration has cultivated innovation in medicine and treatments that improve – and even save – millions of lives every year.

Take cancer, for instance. In the last 40 years cancer survival rates have doubled in the UK. Half of people diagnosed with cancer today will live for 10 years or more. This hasn’t happened by accident and it isn’t the result of one or just a handful of talented scientists beavering away in a lab. It is the result of long-term collaborations between many, many people – academics, scientists, and patients, from a wide range of organisations – universities, institutions, charities and pharmaceutical companies.

As the Welsh national football team has proven recently ‘Together. Stronger’ is more than just a maxim. Working together really does cultivate innovation and has led to some significant breakthroughs in how we treat and manage disease.

The movement towards openness

People, as consumers, are increasingly savvy however and demand greater transparency about where and how their goods and services are made and delivered. From the air miles required to bring fresh strawberries to the UK in December to the labour used to produce cheap clothing on the high street, consumers are looking for more openness.

87% of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital specialists agree that payments from pharmaceutical companies to individual healthcare professionals should be transparent.

And healthcare is no exception. Patients and their families expect to trust and rely on the treatment that they receive. Delivering this trust needs openness on a never-seen-before-scale for the pharma industry.

Disclosure UK: a first step towards greater transparency

Often seen as secretive with a chequered history, the pharmaceutical industry has taken the first step towards fostering this trust with the launch of Disclosure UK – a database that shows payments and benefits in kind made to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals for collaborations with pharmaceutical companies.

Pharma and the healthcare community in the UK are entering, together, a new era of openness.

According to a recent poll, 87% of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital specialists agree that payments from pharmaceutical companies to individual healthcare professionals should be transparent. Around two-thirds (64%) say that this information should be publicly declared and the same proportion (64%) believe this should be declared on a single, publicly searchable, central database like Disclosure UK.

At launch, on 30 June,  nearly 70% of those doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health experts working with a pharma company during 2015 chose to disclose the payment or benefit in kind that they received for this work on the database and, more importantly, support greater transparency about these collaborations.

Disclosure UK is imperfect, not least because doctors can opt out of disclosing, but it is a significant start, which we can all build on.

This paints an encouraging picture of healthcare professionals’ engagement with voluntary disclosure in the UK – under data protection legislation, doctors can withhold permission to share their data. The fact that so many have given permission suggests a shared belief in the importance of these vital collaborations, which enable us to develop medicines that people need, and a joint commitment to greater transparency.

Striking the balance between openness and the right to privacy

With greater transparency comes greater concern and for many doctors there are real and valid anxieties that may have stopped them disclosing. These include fears that the information will be misrepresented; possible negative perceptions among the public; concerns over data protection; potential media coverage; possible negative perceptions among peers and their right to privacy.

We can work together to improve the way in which we are transparent about how we do that.

All of these are understandable. Pharma and the healthcare community in the UK are entering, together, a new era of openness. This new era shines a light on why we work together, the benefits of working together for patients, their families and the NHS, and the payment that exists for the time and expertise of the UK’s world-class doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals.

Disclosure UK is imperfect, not least because doctors can opt out of disclosing, but it is a significant start, which we can all build on. If we can work together to develop and deliver medicines that make such a profound difference to patients’ lives, we can most certainly work together to improve the way in which we are transparent about how we do that.

The GMC’s guidance, Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest, sets out the expectations on doctors for declaring interests.

The GMC is  also running a consultation on changes to the medical register. One aspect of this is whether voluntary disclosure of interests should be introduced to the register. The consultation is open until 7 October.

Headshot of Karen Borrer, ABPI (Photo by Stewart Turkington)

Karen Borrer is Head of Reputation for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) responsible for stakeholder and issues management of a broad range of topics of reputational importance for the UK pharmaceutical industry, including disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals and the launch of Disclosure UK.

 

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