‘The medical untouchables’

The following is a recent opinion piece by Dr Des Spence published in the British Journal of General Practice.

I had been lined up to do the media interviews on BBC Scotland in relation to petition PE1651. However, on the day, due to changed travel arrangements, I was not available. Dr Des Spence was interviewed instead and did a better job than I could have done.

As an NHS doctor and specialist, I fully support this petition (PE1651) which calls on the Scottish parliament “to urge the Scottish Government to take action to appropriately recognise and effectively support individuals affected and harmed by prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal.”

I have submitted my response.

I feel it would be helpful to hear the views of the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland and in particular, how this matter might be considered as part of Realistic Medicine.

Three recent posts by me demonstrate the scale of competing financial interests in medical education in the UK. If you have a moment, you should have a look. Perhaps you might then share the worry that I have about this matter:

I have previously raised my own petition, PE1493, which the Scottish Public has supported. This was a petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland, to make it mandatory for all financial conflicts of interest to be declared by healthcare professionals and academics.

My petition, supported by the public, had no support from “Realistic Medicine”. The public has had no update from the Scottish Government on my petition in 18 months. My view is that this is a shocking failure of governance and would seem to demonstrate a lack of respect for democracy.

Statements made by senior Psychiatrists working in the British Isles

“you are either abstinent or promiscuous when it comes to industry. Well you can see which side I am on”.

“For those of you who watch Panorama, I do not give my consent for you to film this”

“Who would have thought that Pharma Hospitality could cause excessive weight gain and type II diabetes? They kept that quiet”, I replied, ruefully patting my stomach.

“this latest non-problem”

“it is time we all grew up”

 

The Scottish Public: consulted on a Sunshine Act

The Scottish public were consulted on the need for a Sunshine Act for Scotland. Their response, in majority, was that this was necessary.

Almost a year-and-a-half on and the Scottish Government has provided no update to the Scottish people. This is disappointing given the Scottish Government’s assertion that “everyone matters” to them.

The lack of sunshine legislation in the British Isles is raised in this current BMJ News feature:

This response was submitted by Vagish Kumar L Shanbhag:

How mechanical should healthcare be?

These two fliers are currently being shared by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

The following words, it seems to me, are appearing more frequently in healthcare:

ToolsTraffic Lights Dashboards toolkits

It is my view that all those involved in healthcare need to consider the potential consequences of the widespread use of such mechanical language.

Psychiatry without borders

This week the International Congress for the Royal College of Psychiatrists is taking place in Edinburgh. It is titled “Psychiatry without Borders”.

Given my concerns about the harms associated with over-medicalisation I decided to make a peaceful protest outside.

I was born in Edinburgh in 1967.

This was a home-made protest.

I have no associations with Critical Psychiatry, Anti-Psychiatry, Scientologists, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

I am simply a doctor who is interested in ethics.

I am of the view that critical thinking is an essential part of science.

I understand that biases come in all forms. However there is longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

Thank you to all who came to talk to me on the day. Particular thanks to Chrys Muirhead and her son Daniel for all their support

I waited the full day as I wanted to meet the Cabinet Minister for Health (Scottish Government) outside the International Congress. This was my experience:

More details about a Sunshine Act for Scotland can be found here and here.

The public consultation can be found here.

 

Transparency at the Top

I wrote “Transparency at the Top: British Psychiatry” in April 2015 but did not share it publically as I wanted to give the Royal College of Psychiatrists time to improve the governance of financial conflicts of interest. Over the last 2 years improvements have been made by the Royal College of Psychiatrists however the system in place is unsearchable, costly, and bureaucratic. It also does not help determine how much of the £340 million that the pharmaceutical industry pays each year for “promotional activities” goes to the “top” educators (key opinion leaders) in UK psychiatry.

Sir Professor Simon Wessely has been an outstanding President and has carefully listened to the concerns that I have kept raising on this issue. This week he hands over the Presidency of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to Wendy Burn.

Tomorrow, the International Congress: Psychiatry without Borders begins in Edinburgh. I will be protesting outside because I remain concerned about the considerable reach (to the many) of a handful of educators: “The Law of the Few”.

  Here follows my original transcript, dated 25 April 2015:

The Chief Executive of the GMC recently confirmed in the BMJ:

To ensure public transparency of financial payments to healthcare workers and academics both France and America have introduced a Sunshine Act. In the UK we do not have such statutory basis to transparency. Royal colleges rely on Guidance such as this guidance, CR148, by the Royal College of Psychiatrists*:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists Guidance, like The GMC, gives clear and unambiguous guidance*:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has recently expressed that, in addition to such clear and unambiguous College guidance (CR148), that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) “central platform” to be introduced in 2016, will ensure transparency that will “so avoid some of the criticisms of yesteryear”:

The ABPI “Central Register” has no statutory underpinning and any healthcare worker or academic can choose to opt out of revealing any financial payments made from industry.

It is perhaps then an opportune time to consider whether the Royal College of Psychiatrists is correct to express confidence that we may be able to “avoid some of the criticisms of yesteryear” in regards to transparency in regards to the relationship between industry and psychiatrists. To consider this, we might do well to look at some of the key College leads. So to start at the top this should include the current President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Such a consideration should also include the current Chair of the College Psychopharmacology Committee. To be properly representative of College leads, this consideration should also include a Psychiatrist who is today widely considered as a ‘key opinion leader’ in British psychiatry.

The only purpose of this consideration is to attempt to examine if our College leads are exemplars in transparency and to attempt to establish if they have followed College guidance CR148.

Sir Professor Simon Wessely was elected last year as President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and took presidential office on the 26th June 2014. The week after his appointment, Professor Wessely was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and, as part of this public broadcast, was part of a discussion with James Davies, University of Oxford:

This is an emphatic statement made publicly by the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

In fact Wessely has been transparent about “Financial Disclosures” as given here following a co-authored review paper published in JAMA in 2014: “Dr Wessely has received financial support from Pierre Fabry Pharmaceuticals and from Eli Lilly and Co to attend academic meetings and for Speaking engagements.”

This full transparency helped Joel Kauffman consider the 2004 JAMA Editorial and this can be read in full here. But meantime, here is the relevant extract:

Those at the top of British psychiatry would appear to have a range of definitions of “transparency”? It is certainly very clear that Sir Professor Wessely does not have anywhere like the volume of working relationships with industry as some of the other current College leads. Last year Wessely gave the keynote lecture “Psychiatry under fire” at the following conference. This was not a sponsored talk as the programme makes clear. The Conference was organised by Professor Allan Young who confirms that the “objective” of this symposium is to provide “independent” education to help “achieve personal CPD objectives and in your everyday clinical practice”.

Professor Allan Young is also Chair of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and his declarations are publicly available here where he confirms that he is paid for “lectures and Advisory Boards for all major pharmaceutical companies with drugs used in affective and related disorders”. Professor Allan Young may well be one of the most influential ‘key opinion leaders’ in British psychiatry. In this role, as a most influential educator Professor Allan Young has recently been considered here and here.

Also giving a talk at this 2014 “Latest Advances in Psychiatry Symposium” is Professor Guy Goodwin who is also considered to be a “key opinion leader” and who is undoubtedly one of those at the “top” of the hierarchy of British Psychiatry.

Professor Guy Goodwin featured centrally on the BBC Panorama programme in the following month. This programme was titled “who is paying your doctor” and Dr Goodwin came under considerable scrutiny. However it should be the case, that such scrutiny should include not just a single, individual “key opinion leader” but those like the Chair of Psychopharmacology Committee and the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. For patients to have trust in the medical profession it should be the case that such leads are exemplars when it comes to transparency of financial interests.

Following the Panorama programme in which Professor Guy Goodwin featured, the Head of Professor Goodwin’s University Department, had an article published in the BMJ where he expressed the view that the media harm caused by raising the subject of transparency “may outweigh any good”. An alternative view is given here. As a result, Dr David Healy, Director of the North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine offered a proposal to ensure wider consideration of transparency in British Psychiatry. This proposal for a “proper and open debate” was copied to a wide range of individuals including Professor Goodwin and had previously been discussed with Sir Simon Wessely. The correspondence can be read here .

As President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it is clear that speaking proportionally, most of the research Professor Wessely has been involved in has not involved working with the pharmaceutical Industry. Wessely is after all a professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and head of its department of psychological medicine. Compared to some of the psychiatrist colleagues around him, and in particular “key opinion leaders” it is no doubt the case that Wessely has worked less with industry. However, it is not the case that he has “never worked with industry” as he emphatically stated on Radio just after becoming President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

In the past, Professor Wessely has helped prepare review articles through “educational grants” from the pharmaceutical industry. It perhaps may be argued that this is not “working” with industry. Though College guidance CR148 does seem to be much clearer in what it expects in terms of transparency. This was one such article involving Wessely and another one can be accessed here.

A few years before College Guidance CR148 was introduced, and long before Wessely was elected President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, he gave his personal view on ‘working’ relationships with industry and insisted that it was “time we doctors grew up”. At the time, the BMJ published a range of views, and one of these has been included alongside Wessely’s to demonstrate this range. Professor Wessely’s personal view is now over a decade old and it would be helpful to know if his views have changed over this period of time.

Summary:
Is it the case that calling for transparency regarding financial payments may cause more harm than good? Some of those at the top of British psychiatry would appear to have put forward this view, arguing that such will damage public trust. Yet the GMC are clear what they expect of their professional group, namely doctors. Is it not time that we had an open public debate about this involving more than those just at the top?

*Since writing this CR148 was replaced in March 2017 by CR202

       Update of 11 June 2017: "The Law of the Few"

 

 

“The Law of the Few”

Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping Point’ describes what he terms “The Law of the Few”: namely that the influence of a few people can result in change in behaviour across a wider population.

This Hole Ousia post is about the education of psychiatrists and takes all its material from publically available sources. This post hopes to demonstrate the considerable reach (to the many) of a handful of educators.

This post follows on from the evidence that was gathered for my petition to the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland. That petition closed 16 months ago following a consultation with the Scottish public who, in majority, asked that payments made to healthcare workers and academics be declared on a mandatory basis. I have argued the reasons why I am of the view that such mandatory declarations should be registered on a single, open, central, searchable, independent database.

Evidence has demonstrated that when a doctor has a financial “conflict of interest”, this can affect the treatment decisions they make, or recommend. There is longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

The post has come about following my invitations in the last month to Continuing Medical Education (CME) provided in my place of employment (NHS Scotland). I do not knowingly  attend sponsored medical education and so declined these two talks. The first was by Dr Peter Haddad (sponsored by Lundbeck) and the next one, just two weeks later, was by Professor McAllister Williams (sponsored by Lundbeck).

I am an ordinary psychiatrist working in a provincial NHS general hospital and to find such prominent individuals visiting our wee corner of Scotland left me to reflect upon the wide influence of a few key individuals.


The British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP) describes itself as “a learned society and registered charity. It promotes research and education in Psychopharmacology and related areas, and brings together people in academia, health services, and industry.”

Professor Hamish McAllister-Williams is an Ex-Officio Member of BAP and is currently the BAP Director of Education.  Dr Peter Haddad, former Honorary General Secretary of BAP, has been involved over a number of years with BAP education providing articles and masterclasses.

Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist I have frequently heard colleagues say that BAP “is the place to go” for CME.  It is now a requirement for General Medical Council Appraisal and Revalidation to demonstrate with our College that we have participated in CME. Once this has been demonstrated the Royal College of Psychiatrists will issue a Certificate of “Good medical standing”.

As BAP Director of Education, Professor McAllister Williams recently shared this offer to trainee psychiatrists. Following the dissemination of this I took the opportunity to look more closely at the current BAP calendar for Continuing Medical Education. This again demonstrates the wide influence of a small number of individuals, some of whom would appear (within the limits of the current voluntary disclosure regime) to have potential financial conflicts of interest.

In the remaining part of this post I have included a few examples

As BAP Director of Education, Professor McAllister Williams chaired this BAP 2015 Summer Meeting: “Expert Seminar in Psychopharmacology”. The key-note speaker was Professor Stephen Stahl who many consider as one of the most influential key opinion leaders in world psychiatry.

In the USA, pharmaceutical and medical device companies are required by law to release details of their payments to doctors and teaching hospitals for promotional talks, research and consulting. This was the return for Professor Stahl at the time of his contribution to BAP as an educator of UK psychiatrists:

In the UK disclosure of payments is on a voluntary basis.

Professor David Nutt, former BAP President, has declared financial interests on the voluntary ABPI Register. Over the ABPI “disclosure period”, Professor Nutt has declared just short of £46,000 that he has received from Janssen-Cilag Ltd and Lundbeck Ltd.

There are strong links between BAP and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The President Elect for BAP is Professor Allan Young.  Professor Allan Young is Chair of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr McAllister Williams, the BAP Director of Education is an appointed member of this Committee. Some years ago I wrote this post about the Royal College of Psychiatrists Psychopharmacology Committee.

Some years ago I put together this Hole Ousia post on Professor Allan Young and also this post. It is clear that Professor Allan Young remains a very active educator and opinion leader in the UK and beyond:

Professor Guy Goodwin was President of BAP between 2004 and 2005. In April 2014 he featured prominently on  BBC Panorama:

On the 40th anniversary of BAP, Professor Peter J Cowen was given the Lifetime Achievement award:

Professor Philip J Cowen featured in this post of Hole Ousia of some years back: All in the past? Well no. Definitely not.

Conclusion:
The recently retired CEO of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Vanessa Cameron, who had been with the College for 36 years was interviewed for the Psychiatric Bulletin in December 2016. This was the view that she expressed:

Each time I reconsider this subject I do not find evidence to support this view. My worry is that the Royal College of Psychiatrists is being complacent in facilitating the education of the many by such a small group of individuals. The Law of the Few.

Footnote:

If you click on each invite below you will access what is available 
in the public domain regarding the educational activities of the 
recent speakers. I apologise if this is in any way an incomplete 
record.

 

Stifling distortions












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To seek balance in the appreciation of where expertise rests: my submission on PE01651

Submission on PE01651: Prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal

Made by Dr Peter J Gordon

Date of submission: 3rd June 2017.

Submission made in a personal capacity.

I am writing in support of this petition. I am an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist who has worked in this specialty in Scotland for almost 25 years now. My wife has worked as a General Practitioner in Scotland over the same period. I have an interest in ethics, human rights and the medical humanities generally. One of the areas I have taken much interest in is informed consent.

I would argue that this backdrop may mean that I can add some thoughts and reflections that might help the Committee in the consideration of this particular petition.

I should make it clear that as an NHS psychiatrist I do prescribe antidepressants and other psychotropic medications. I try to do so following the best available evidence as considered as relevant or not to my professional understanding of each unique patient and their life circumstances.

I wish to keep this summary short as I am aware that the Committee receives a great deal of evidence. So I offer a few points of evidence that I would be willing at a future date to expand upon if that were felt to be helpful:

• Antidepressant prescribing In Scotland (ISD figures) has been rising year-on-year in Scotland for at least the last ten years (this is also true of all other prescribed psychotropic medications). It is estimated that 1 in 7 Scots are now taking antidepressants and many of these in the long-term.

• At a recent Parliamentary Cross Party Meeting on Mental Health and older adults an invited speaker stated that: “depression is under-recognised across all age groups” and that “maintenance treatment has a good risk-benefit ratio.”

• A key opinion leader and Government advisor has previously argued that prescribing of antidepressants in Scotland is “conservative” and “appropriate”.

• Many of the key opinion leaders “educating” doctors prescribing antidepressants in Scotland appear to have significant financial interests with the makers of these medications. Across the UK, £340 million was paid by the pharmaceutical industry in the last recorded year to healthcare workers and academics for such “promotional activities”.

• “Informed Consent” will not be possible if the information that doctors base prescribing on follows such promotion rather than independent, and more objective, continuing medical education. This issue is now at the fore of the Mesh Inquiry.

A few questions that need to be considered:

  • When patients are prescribed antidepressants are they informed that as many as 1 in 2 will be taking antidepressants long-term?
  • Are patients informed that there may be a significant risk of pharmacological dependence on antidepressants?
  • Do patients know that their experience of antidepressants may be considered less valid than the experts (who may have been paid by the pharmaceutical industry) who educate other doctors (who may be unaware of this potential financial bias)?

Summary:

My view is that antidepressants are over-prescribed in Scotland.

My view is that patients have not been properly informed of benefits and risks.

My view is that appropriate prescribing has not been realised due to a number of factors: the lack of access to psychological therapies or other meaningful supports; the wide promotion of antidepressants where marketing is routinely conflated with education; and a culture of increasing medicalisation generally.

I would suggest that this petition might be considered in light of the Chief Medical Officer’s Realistic Medicine campaign. It is time for balance to be re-established between “medical paternalism” and the valued, vital and real-world experiences of patients who are taking medications like antidepressants. I am particularly disappointed in my own College, the Royal College of Psychiatrists for not making greater effort to facilitate such balance. Without such, I fear more harm will result from inappropriate and costly prescribing in NHS Scotland.

Finally, due to widespread “off-label” promotion of antidepressants in Scotland, patients may experience withdrawal syndromes which can be most severe and precipitate mental states far more serious than the mental state for which they may have originally been prescribed.

I would urge the committee to consider this petition most carefully and to seek balance in their appreciation of where expertise rests.