Doctors, consultants and other medical practitioners will be obliged to declare gifts or donations from pharmaceutical and healthcare companies under new legislation introduced in the Dáil.
Clinicians who receive gifts or other services will have to make a statutory declaration in a register similar to that required of politicians.
Doctors themselves are seeking the legislation and clinicians approached Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher to sponsor a Bill, because "they were concerned that the situation was undermining their professional integrity and the integrity of research and development".
Introducing the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill, Mr Kelleher said there was a need to ensure “no greying of the ethical barriers critical to healthcare provision”.
The Fianna Fáil spokesman noted reports that the HSE warned it “might stop buying medicines from pharmaceutical companies which do not name the individual doctors and health care organisations in receipt of multimillion euro payments from them”.
He cited a Sunday Business Post report that drug companies were funding dozens of medical and nursing posts in some of the State's biggest hospitals "while almost one-third of the HSE's most senior doctors were receiving money from pharmaceutical firms".
Unable to account
The report “also found that hospitals were unable to account for millions of euro that pharmaceutical companies stated they had paid them”.
Mr Kelleher said there was “nothing wrong” with companies funding positions “where it is a purely philanthropic endeavour by a company but it does place people in a very invidious position” and this needed to be addressed, he said.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said that many in public office and positions of public influence were rightly subjected to a degree of transparency and it was important to put it in place in a consistent manner "as is so often wanted by clinicians".
He said the OECD reported that most countries operated on self-regulation but legislation had been successfully enacted to address these issues in France and the USA and on that basis he would support the legislation.
Minister of State Catherine Byrne said the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association which represents 44 international research-based companies provided €30 million to healthcare organisations and healthcare professionals in 2016.
The association has operated a voluntary code since January 2016 to publish information on donations, grants and sponsorships to organisations and healthcare professionals.
But she said professionals might refuse to allow their details be disclosed and companies would then only disclose aggregate data and “this does not provide transparency”.
Mr Kelleher said the Bill aims to bring transparency to the area and “it’s not good enough” for clinicians to decide they do not want their name included on disclosed data.
He stressed that “there needs to be full accountability and a proper register established”, similar to that for TDs and Senators.
He also believed some companies were “paying millions of euro in fees to doctors to cover education, travel, speaking fees and payments to sit on advisory boards for pharma and medical device companies”.
A statutory register would “remove potential conflicts of interest” in negotiations with pharmaceutical or medical device companies.
Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly welcomed the legislation and said Mr Kelleher was very clear that this was not “to punish practitioners” but to provide transparency so everyone could be aware if a situation arose where a company was “overly generous”.
She had a problem that the threshold above which declarations would be made was €600 because an individual could receive multiple gifts or bursaries each to the value of €599.
Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil said clarity was needed when the medical profession called for it.
Mr Brassil, a pharmacist, said Prof Michael Barry (clinical director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics) believed that it influences prescribing patterns at present and he also has great difficulty where clinical leads are in receipt of any payments.