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.

Every day there is a discovery in a lab or consultation in a surgery that has the ability to dramatically change the course of someone’s life. The pharmaceutical industry and doctors have been working together on developing treatments that make a difference to patients’ lives for decades.

Our work has supported the change in many illnesses from a ‘death sentence’ to a chronic condition or even cured. For example, cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years; there has been a 75% decrease in deaths from heart disease since 1961; AIDS is now a manageable chronic condition and 90% of patients living with Hepatitis C can now be cured with a 12-week course of medicine.

The pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession have risen to the challenges posed by countless diseases. What we have not been so good at is talking about the relationship that exists between us.

This then is our new challenge: achieving greater transparency on these collaborations, so that patients and their families can better understand how we work together, and can have confidence in the value of our endeavours.

Industry took the first steps on this journey last year with the launch of Disclosure UK – a searchable database that shows payments and benefits in kind made by the pharmaceutical industry to doctors, nurses and other health professionals and organisations in the UK. At launch, 55% of those health professionals industry had worked with gave permission for us to publish details of the payments they received.

In a year, this has increased to 65%. Data published on 30 June shows that 10% more doctors, nurses and pharmacists gave consent for pharmaceutical companies to publish their information for work they did with industry during 2016. Eighty two per cent of the £116.5 million in payments or benefits in kind made by industry for non-research and development activity is now disclosed against named individual healthcare professionals or organisations.

This is a good start, but full transparency needs every health professional who has a relationship with the pharmaceutical industry to agree to share information about this relationship via Disclosure UK.

In the same 12 months we have seen NHS England issue guidance on managing conflicts of interest, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society develop a professional guide to declaring interests appropriately, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges publish a statement on disclosing payments. All of which advise healthcare professionals to disclose payments and benefits in kind, where relevant, on the Disclosure UK database.

Coupled with the industry’s commitment to increasing the consent rate it is no wonder then that we have seen almost 1,000 additional healthcare professionals give their consent to publish details of collaborations they have had with industry in the pursuit of medical advancement.

Last month, health and care regulators, including the GMC, published a joint statement on conflicts of interest – the latest example of a system-wide commitment to greater openness.

The statement set out expectations of health and social care professionals in making sure that all potential conflicts of interest are managed appropriately, and that the interests of people in their care come before all others.

These patients are the foundation of collaborations between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and the reason why we are finding so much common ground on increasing openness around the work industry and healthcare professionals undertake together.

By working together – academics, scientists, doctors, nurses, and the organisations they are affiliated with and the pharmaceutical industry – we have made huge advances. None of us will rest until we have made even more significant breakthroughs in treating the illnesses that continue to affect us all – dementia, cancer, stroke, heart disease and mental illness for example.

But it is essential that we do so transparently in the future. If you are a doctor who works with the pharmaceutical industry, please speak to the companies with whom you work to ensure that they know you are behind this initiative, and that you want them to disclose your collaboration on Disclosure UK.