No free lunch – call for end to drug firms’ gifts

I see the BBC are running this story today:

Medical experts are calling for drug industry representatives to stop giving gifts to doctors, the BBC has learned.

The report was created by a working party led by the Royal College of Physicians and including members of leading pharmaceutical companies.

The report says the measure would do much to rebalance the relationship between medicine and industry.

The UK regulator, the GMC, says gifts must not be accepted which could be seen to affect clinicians’ judgement.

The industry’s current code of practice allows drug companies to give small promotional gifts that are relevant to doctors’ work, such as pens or surgical gloves.

The report is to be published this Wednesday (4 Feb), but from what I’ve read in the BBC article it may have missed the point. Rather than examine the tiny tip of the iceberg, we should be much more concerned with the massive amount of activity that is hidden beneath the surface.

Maybe I should let a Doctor explain what I mean. Dr Des Spence is the UK spokesman for No Free Lunch which is an international group of health professionals with members around the world which is concerned with exposing drug marketing techniques used by pharma companies.

This is from the website No Free Lunch:

In the UK almost all doctors work for the NHS. Most doctors are state educated and are supported through university by the taxpayer. Most doctors are high earners with salaries of £80,000 plus. Doctors also enjoy full employment and a generous pension scheme. Doctors are the most trusted of all the professions and enjoy a high social status. Should doctors be indebted to the state and the NHS for all these privileges?

Most doctors are hard working,decent people seeking only to serve their communities. The public need to understand, however, that in general terms doctors are only a cross section of society sharing all the strengths and weaknesses of humanity. They are not different.

Doctors enjoy widespread hospitality from pharmaceutical companies. This is not just a few pens. Many doctors have lunch provided on a daily basis, attend meals in expensive restaurants, visits luxury hotels and many are flown to international destinations. NHS doctors can receive many thousands of pounds working for companies but these payments are not disclosed. All this hospitality and money directly effects the medications that you are prescribed. Vioxx and Seroxat were both promoted by these methods. No other public servants would be allowed such payments or hospitality. Do you think that all such contacts and payments should be disclosed to you the patients? We do.

Consider these facts:

  • The pharmaceutical industry spends billions on marketing its drugs. In the USA more money was spent promoting a single medication than was spent selling Budweiser. In the UK billions are spent on promotion.
  • The pharmaceutical industry has close links with the top medical experts many of whom receive direct large financial payments. These payments are not declared to other doctors and certainly not to patients
  • About 80% of new medications are not in fact new but merely a rehash of old medications. Millions die in the developing world but little research is done because the profits are in the developed world.
  • Pharma Companies use GPs to conduct research. Some GP practices are making tens of thousands of pounds every year through this work. These payments are undisclosed to patients. This research is done on NHS premises and often during normal office hours.
  • Many top specialists are flown first class around the world to attend international meetings. These meeting are “educational” but may be set in the most exotic locations like Brazil, the USA etc. These are all expenses paid – that’s hotel, drinks, the whole bunna! Is this education or promotion? You decide.
  • GPs are paid for giving feedback to marketing companies. This can be in the form of cash (literally in envelopes). £50 for 10 minutes “work”.
  • It is estimated that twice as many people die from adverse drug reactions than die on our roads. Yet we have police, speed cameras, traffic calming measures. The drugs industry has no such checks. A leading specialist at a parliamentary inquiry claimed that many regulators across Europe had been “captured” by the pharmaceutical industry. The current drug regulatory system is rather like asking speeding motorist to report him or herself!
  • The industry is accused of widespread suppression of negative research data and using ghostwriters in place of doctors to write research papers.
  • The regulator known as the MRHA is almost entirely funded by the Pharmaceutical Industry. Many of those working for the regulator have also worked for the drugs industry. Is this acceptable?

If you’d like to know more just have a look here for some of my collected posts on this very topic.

Many of the activities that drug companies undertake to market their products can only be described as criminal.

Still, not to worry – a focus on putting a stop to the handing out of free pens and surgical gloves will be the answer…

… but just remember “The report was created by a working party led by the Royal College of Physicians and including members of leading pharmaceutical companies”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: