‘Medical Education for the 21st Century’

BMJ, by Dr Peter J. Gordon, 10 January 2013

Over a year ago I wrote to the BMJ about drug industry sponsorship of our medical “education” offering my personal concern about the “transparency” of NHS “Hospitality Registers.”[1]

Today, I received an “Invitation and dates for Pfizer Anxiety & Depression in Practice Meeting Programme 2013.” Forwarded to all medical practitioners in my medical discipline the invite is to a two day, all-paid ‘Masterclass in Anxiety Depression’ to be taking place in Cambridge, Ascot, Swindon, Manchester and Warwick. This ”Masterclass” features speakers who are well-known academics in this field. The meeting is promoted by STAC Consultancy who describe their business as follows:

“STAC exists to Shorten The Adoption Curve for both new pharmaceutical products coming up to launch and products already launched. STAC undertakes strategic marketing consultancy and tactical brand building via professional communication and medical education . . ..”[2]

This invitation carries the headline logo “Medical Education for the 21st Century” and was circulated by “the new hospital representative for our pain/anxiety medicine Pregabalin.”

Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, agreed to pay $2.3bn to settle charges of fraud and civil and criminal liability over its promotion of off-label use for four drugs including Pregabalin.[3]


Published in the BMJ. 9 Sept 2009.

Am I alone not to feel reassured by the “partnership” Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, celebrates as  now both “transparent” and “ethical”?[4]

Stephen Whitehead

A year on, and given at least two years of enquiry, I have recently been informed that the “Hospitality Register,” which is an integral part of “NHS Forth Valley Policy on Standards of Personal Business Conduct” has never existed. This means that paid honorariums, sponsored “education” and other potential incentives are undisclosed. This does not seem like “transparency.” This is, in fact, invisibility. The medical profession has an ethical duty to acknowledge that this kind of activity inevitably includes an element of marketing and that we are as open to influence from this as anyone else. Surely it is not beyond us to develop a more balanced model of postgraduate medical education.

[1] System for disclosing hospitality should be transparent doi: 10.1136/bmj.d7375 (Published 15 November 2011)

[3] Pfizer pays record fine for off-label promotion of four drugs BMJ 2009; b3657 (Published 9 September 2009)

[4] Whitehead, S. Drug industry takes great care to be responsible healthcare partner (Published 26 October 2011) BMJ2011;343:d6695

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