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Doctors ‘face jail over pharma payments’

Published on 24/08/15 at 09:55am
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt says pharma sales reps have been 'ripping the NHS off'

Healthcare professionals who have inappropriate financial links with pharma companies will face prosecution and up to 10 years in jail, under Government plans for a major crackdown on industry transparency.

From next year Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to bring in new rules to force all NHS hospitals and GP clinical commissioning groups to keep a registers of all payments accepted from pharma companies – to weed out corruption in the NHS.

Mr Hunt is acting in the wake of allegations made in the national press. Prescribing staff were recorded discussing payments with a fictitious pharma company, who offered to pay to arrange meetings about NHS formularies, switching drugs and influencing doctors’ prescribing decisions.

Under the new transparency rules, any member of staff who fails to declare full details of payments they receive will face disciplinary action. If they are found guilty of wrongdoing they could be prosecuted under the Bribery Act, which can result in unlimited fines and up to 10 years in jail. It is not clear if there will be any sanctions for pharma companies above investigated by the Prescriptions Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt says the plans for a UK ‘Sunshine Act’ – similar legislation to that in place in the US which requires mandatory disclosure of all payments made by pharma companies to doctors – will promote greater transparency in the industry.

Mr Hunt said the revelations made in the investigation were “disturbing evidence of NHS staff and professionals, alleged to have received payment or hospitality from pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers to influence NHS purchasing decisions.”

“Even worse, the investigation suggested that some NHS staff and professionals making these decisions may have been influenced by extravagant hospitality," Mr Hunt says. "It’s hard not to conclude that some sales reps have been ripping the NHS off, and diverting taxpayers’ money away from patient care.”

Hunt says he does not want to stop ‘sensible collaboration between private firms and the health service “but we must not tolerate abuse,” he adds.

The ABPI says it welcomes the move, as “a positive addition to the existing industry-led drive for disclosure and transparency around industry relationships with healthcare professionals.” The trade body has its own plans for a publicly accessible database to record payments made by companies to named doctors, although this will not be mandatory.

In response to the article, Dr Virginia Acha, the ABPI’s executive director of research, medical and innovation, says: “We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and NHS England as plans for the ‘Sunshine Rule’ develop, to ensure that we maximise our combined efforts on disclosure for the benefit of patients and the public.

“It appears that whilst declarations of gifts and hospitality made under the proposed Sunshine Rule signal a common ambition for greater transparency in our relationships, it will cover just a small proportion of the important interaction between industry and HCPs in comparison to our own disclosure requirements.

“For that common ambition for greater transparency to really improve relationships between healthcare professionals and industry, we also need to align on the great value of those relationships to deliver advances in science and treatment for patients, including research.  We have always maintained these interactions are a critical part of advancing improved healthcare outcomes for patients within appropriate and transparent governance frameworks."

Lilian Anekwe

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