The industry’s move to disclose payments to healthcare professionals is seen as part of a cultural shift towards greater openness and transparency

At the beginning of April the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry organised a stakeholder roundtable to discuss how to coordinate efforts to develop a robust transparency registry that meets the expectations and needs of healthcare professionals, industry, the general public and, most importantly, patients. This is the second report from the meeting.

The ABPI has been at the forefront of advancing financial transparency at a UK and European level, for the past two years releasing aggregate figures on the amounts paid by the industry as fees for service and sponsorship to attend third party meetings, Andrew Powrie-Smith, ABPI Director of Scotland and Reputation, told the meeting
Figures for 2013, released on 3 April 2014, show payments from the pharmaceutical industry to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals totalled approximately £38.5 million. This is marginally lower than 2012, when payments of £40 million were made.

Mr Powrie-Smith discussed details of a consultation conducted across the healthcare professional community, commissioned by the ABPI, which shows there is broad support for public disclosure via a single, searchable database.

While only 5 per cent of respondents said there should be no disclosure, there was general agreement that healthcare professionals should play a role in establishing a system of public declaration.

The ABPI is scoping the system and is now starting to have conversations with healthcare professionals. “We need to communicate: awareness is probably pretty low at this stage,” said Mr Powrie-Smith.

The ABPI is moving ahead in the context of a “transparency evolution” in which a number of bodies, especially in the public sector, are making moves to overtly demonstrate their accountability, to maintain and enhance confidence in trusted institutions.

As one case in point, on the same day as the ABPI roundtable meeting with healthcare professionals, Members of Parliament on the Health Committee recommended the General Medical Council, as the body responsible for regulating doctors, “should examine the practical considerations of developing a register [of financial interests], which is reliable and open to public scrutiny ….

The technical approach to establishing the registry

From January 2015, pharmaceutical companies will start to collect payment information into a standard template for submission to the central system.

In order to ensure there is no inference that the industry is using the database to influence the market rate for consultancy (which would be anti-competitive), the information will not specify the amount paid per hour or per day. Rather, for example, it could say, ‘From 1 January – 31 December Dr Jones was paid y by z company for consultancy services. “There will be accurate figures for the amount someone received, but it won’t say they worked x hours and were paid y,” Mr Powrie-Smith said.

The system will be able to aggregate payments from two or more companies to the same healthcare professional through the allocation of a unique identifier.

Once the information in the templates has been uploaded, healthcare professionals will be able to check their own data (which will include their place of work) before it is made public.

In addition to payments to named individuals, the database will also list payments by company. All of the data will be available on open access, with the ABPI hosting the database on its website. “All the information will be downloadable and available in a way that ensures it can be matched against other datasets, so anyone can interrogate and work with it,” Mr Powrie-Smith said.

For more from the workshop go here: