In October 2019, Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists [2017-2020] openly stated: “Despite what some people think, most clinicians in the UK are not influenced by the pharmaceutical industry”.
Unfortunately the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists provided no evidence to support this statement.
The key word in this statement is “influence”.
For over a decade I have been a grassroots campaigner for transparency regarding payments by industry to academics and doctors. I raised a petition to the Scottish Parliament in relation to this. On hole ousia I have openly shared as much available evidence as I can.
I worked as an NHS psychiatrist for 25 years and my experience was that the majority of my colleagues did not work, in any way, for the pharmaceutical industry. However, my research for a Sunshine Act, has revealed that, in terms of influence on prescribing, the pharmaceutical industry relies on a group of academics and doctors [and sometimes allied professionals like pharmacists]. This group has been described as “Key Opinion Leaders”, and perhaps more accurately as “Paid Opinion Leaders”. My experience as an NHS doctor was that my colleagues were generally unaware that they were being educated [for mandatory Continuing Medical Education] by influential professionals who have received payments from the Pharmaceutical Industry. It is my understanding that, generally speaking, the pharmaceutical industry spends more of its revenue on marketing than it does on research and innovation. This fact, I would suggest, is evidence in itself.
President Burn’s reassurance reminded me of an exchange on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry between her predecessor, Professor Simon Wessely [President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2014-2017], and Dr Ben Goldacre [author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma]. Dr Goldacre concluded this exchange: “I’m very concerned about the reputational consequences for the profession of casual false reassurance on these issues”.
Here are some of the paid opinion leaders in UK psychiatry [I have used information available in the public domain to construct visual summaries of the competing interests of some key opinion leaders. I have done so in the spirit of the relevant guidance of the Royal College of Psychiatrists].