Pharma firms’ payments to doctors to be disclosed

Rules to bring ‘greater transparency’ to the industry

 Drug companies will have to disclose payments made to doctors and other healthcare professionals. Photograph: Getty Images

Drug companies will have to disclose payments made to doctors and other healthcare professionals. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Payments made by pharmaceutical companies to doctors and other healthcare professionals are to be publicly disclosed for the first time under new rules that take effect in January.

The rules, designed to bring greater transparency to the industry, will see individual drug companies publish in the following year the lists of payments made to doctors for 2015.

The requirement to disclose “transfers of value” will cover items such as donations and grants, consultancy fees, funding for attendance at medical conferences and speaking fees.

The change is the latest in a series of measures introduced to improve the image of an industry often criticised for an overly close relationship to the medical profession.

Gifts from companies to healthcare professionals, such as free pens and notepads, were banned earlier this year. The number of free samples that can be provided to doctors has been limited to four a year.

Reasonable hospitality

Curbs have also been placed on entertainment. Drug companies have been told the hospitality they provide must be “reasonable in level” and relevant to the main purpose of an event. Meals offered should not exceed a threshold of €80 per person.

However, individual doctors will still be able to avoid having their name disclosed by refusing to give their consent under data protection rules.

In such cases, the amount of the benefit they receive will be included in the aggregate sum published by a pharmaceutical company but their name will not be disclosed.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, which represents 38 of the biggest drug companies in the State, says it has made clear to the medical profession that its preference is for individual consent of information.

“The interaction between the industry and healthcare professionals has always been covered by legislation and our code of practice, however, the recent updates to the code are intended to provide further trust and transparency on the relationships for patients and other stakeholders,” said Orlaith Brennan, the association’s interim director of operations.

Close relationship

The development and improvement of medicines depends on a close working relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals, from clinical trials to feedback on products in the market, Ms Brennan said.

“We believe that they should be fairly compensated for the legitimate expertise and services they provide to the industry.”

Some companies are going further, such as GlaxoSmithKline, which is to stop paying doctors to speak on its behalf and to attend medical conferences. The multinational is at the centre of a corruption scandal in China, where it has been fined €375 million for bribing doctors and hospitals in order to have its products promoted.

The initiative is European-wide but only applies to over-the-counter drugs. Disclosures will be made in the country of residence of the recipient. The exact details around publication have yet to be decided, but it is likely to take place on drug company websites.