The Royal Society of Medicine and sponsored medical education (an update)

The Royal Society of Medicine describes itself as “one of the country’s major providers of postgraduate medical education. Independent and apolitical, the Society provides a neutral platform for informed debate about important, often controversial, healthcare topics.”

In a previous post I shared concerns that the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) did not seem to ensure public transparency in relation to sponsored medical education. I have since had this clarification from the Marketing & Communications Director of the RSM:

16 July 2018

Dear Dr Gordon,
As promised, I am writing in response to your email last week and would like to begin with reference to your blog post – ‘The Royal Society of Medicine and sponsored medical education’ You asked me for feedback and said you’d correct any inaccuracies within this for us.

The blog post states: “There are no declarations of competing financial interest given for any of the speakers or Chair of this event hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine.”

Please note that this event is not being hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM). The organisers, Pavilion Publishing, are hiring our facilities at 1 Wimpole Street as a venue for the event and we have no other involvement in their programme or selection of speakers.

Moving now to competing interests for staff, members and speakers at RSM events, this is a matter we do take extremely seriously.

The Society keeps a register of competing interests for trustees, directors and senior staff. While we do not have a specific policy for speakers, all are expected to declare any competing interests via a speakers’ form which must be completed in advance of all meetings. The competing interests outlined on the form include research grants or other financial support, employment in any capacity by a company, including the role of consultant or adviser, or any shareholding in a company. Any competing interests are then included on meeting materials for delegates.

We do not keep a central register of speakers’ competing interests. I have, though, following your query, raised this with our Dean and have asked her to consider a speakers’ competing interests policy and register for potential implementation in the future.

Regarding sponsorship from pharmaceutical companies or other organisations, whenever this is received for an RSM event we make this very clear within both publicity and delegate materials to ensure we comply with APBI rules.

Please do note also that the RSM does not pay RSM speakers other than for their travel expenses within agreed parameters (no first class travel for example). The exception to this is a handful of annual lectures where an honorarium is paid for an endowed or eponymous lecture.

I trust this explains our position clearly with regard to competing interests.

and this:

17 July 2018

Dear Dr Gordon,
I am writing to you following your request for the RSM’s register of competing interests for trustees, directors and senior staff.

As you may know the RSM is not a public body as defined under the Freedom of Information Act and in line with other similar bodies, we regard these declarations as private to our business and do not release them outside of the RSM. This is also in line with the GDPR and the fair processing , and use of personal data, as the individuals have not provided their specific consent for this to be shared.

A few of my thoughts on the responses from RSM on transparency:

The RSM confirms that the conference that I asked about was organised by Pavilion Publishing who had hired the  Royal Society of Medicine venue at 1 Wimpole Street, London.

It concerns me that the Royal Society of Medicine, which describes itself as “one of the country’s major providers of postgraduate medical education” and that it is “independent”, has no policy on competing interests. However it “expects” speakers to declare “any competing interests” which are then “included on meeting materials for delegates”. This approach is similar to that taken by other Royal Societies and Colleges, and is far from transparent. The information given to delegates is rarely open to the public, is not systematically recorded, may not be archived and does not include the size or scale of any competing financial interests.

The lack of public transparency by the Royal Society of Medicine means that there is no way for a patient to establish the role and scale of marketing in the advice provided by any healthcare professional associated with “one of the country’s major providers of postgraduate medical education” in an event like this. Evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients. In the UK the pharmaceutical industry pays at least £40 million each year to doctors for promotional and marketing their products.




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