‘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.

Rising stars: British Association of Psychopharmacology

I submitted a rapid response to the BMJ last September after viewing galleries of photographs of the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP) Summer Meeting of 2016. The BMJ did not publish my post. This year’s galleries of the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP) Summer Meeting have now been shared. This is an amended version of what I sent last summer:

I was recently shared the published photographs of the British Association of Psychopharmacology 2016 Summer Conference.

At this BAP conference, an accredited CPD conference, the rising stars are seen to mix with today’s key opinion leaders. We all welcome the sharing of experience between generations and I have repeatedly stated how important I believe this to be. Some of the BAP key opinion leaders have declared significant financial interests with the Pharmaceutical Industry.

Up-to-date declarations of BAP speakers can be viewed here

I support transparency.  I have understood that this can only ever be a means to an end.

Robert K Merton once insisted that science should be based not on interest but ‘disinterest’. Merton’s star rose long ago and he is now dead. I do hope that all generations of scientists might be able to see his ‘disinterested’ star, still in the sky that we all share.

 

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:

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 lawn was white with doctors









Making science a reality

It has been a long time since I last wrote on Hole Ousia about my activism for a science that strives for objectivity.

It is probably reasonable to suggest that no other in the British Isles has given more to this cause than I have.

I petitioned the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland. Much evidence was gathered for this petition and this was then shared in a formal public consultation.

The Scottish public agreed, in majority, that payments from the pharmaceutical industry and device makers to healthcare professionals need to be declared on a mandatory basis. At the time, this landmark consultation was neither reported in the mainstream press nor the medical press. A year on the Scottish Government has provided no meaningful update.

It was thus with considerable interest that I read the following editorial in the current British Medical Journal:

The full article can be accessed here from the BMJ:






Open and transparent from omphalos on Vimeo.

Were we asleep at the wheel?

At the beginning of June 2008 I sent an e-mail to Dr Leon Eisenberg, a former child psychiatrist, and a man of philosophy and science:
leon-eisenberg
Dr Eisenberg was then 89 years old and I wanted to convey how important his writings had been to me:mindlessness-and-brainlessness-in-psychiatry-1986
I did not expect a reply:
leon-eisenberg-to-peter-gordon-8-june-2016

A year later Leon Eisenberg died.

were-we-asleep-at-the-switch

After his death a memoir was discovered: which Eisenberg had named “Were We Asleep at the Switch?”.

Eisenberg suggested that a switch from ‘mind’ to ‘body’ has taken place in psychiatry as a discipline, which has led to overuse of medication.

He also argued that “monied interests” had been making de facto decisions on behalf of us all about the “science” of things that might affect us.

Eisenberg was worried that the overwhelming impact of economic considerations may have rendered, and might continue to render futile, the professional contributions of many brilliant, timely, and concerned working scientists.

leon-eisenberg-1987b

The Scottish Public Want Sunshine

There is a long standing joke about the lack of sunshine in Scotland.

Three years ago I began the process of raising a petition with the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce a Sunshine Act.

A Sunshine Act makes it a statutory requirement for all payments from commercial interests made to healthcare workers and academics to be declared publically. The metaphor is that sunshine brings full light. Both the United States of America and France have introduced a sunshine act.

The doctor in Gabriel García Marquez’   ‘Living to tell the tale’ says “Here I am not knowing how many of my patients have died by the Will of God and how many because of my medications”. Márquez often returns to the theme of medical ethics in his writings and reminds us that all interventions have the potential for benefit and harm.  In ‘No one writes to the Colonel’, “a man [who] came to town selling medicines with a snake around his neck”. Here Márquez is reminding us of the long history of the financial opportunities open to healthcare professionals.

As a junior doctor in around 2000, I was handed by a Consultant a several hundred page document entitled “Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of dementia”. The Consultant told me “this is the way forward!” Some years on I came to realise that this document had been developed, funded and disseminated by the Pharmaceutical Industry whose first loyalty, as a business, is to its share-holders.

In the wake of the dissemination of this document, prescribing of antipsychotics, sedatives and antidepressants in Scotland has been rising year on year. This has been described as mass prescribing, and is often long-term. Yet the evidence to support such prescribing is poor.

There is much promotion of “partnership working” between industry and healthcare. Yet we must remember that these two partners have different aims, and it is the responsibility of healthcare workers to follow the ethical approaches central to their professions. For example, the General Medical Council is clear about what is expected of doctors in their code “Good Medical Practice”. The potential for conflicts of interest is recognised and doctors are advised “you must be open about the conflict, declaring your interest formally”.

Since 2003, Scottish Government guidance has been in place to allow the declaration of financial interests of NHS staff, to their employing health boards. As a result of my petition, the Scottish Government has confirmed that this guidance is not being followed.

One key area of concern is the continuing professional education of healthcare professionals, another requirement of professional bodies. In at least two Boards in NHS Scotland, continuing medical education relies entirely on the financial support of commercial interests.

National and international conferences may also form part of continuing professional education. Because of the Sunshine Act in the USA, we know that a key-note speaker at a recent UK conference has been paid more than £3 million dollars by the pharmaceutical industry since the Sunshine Act was introduced. There is currently no way of knowing the scale of any payment made to a UK speaker sharing the same platform.

My experience of trying to clarify if there is transparency about financial payments in Scotland has been revealing. I have encountered significant defensive reactions from individuals and organisations. There has long been a body of evidence that, for example, prescribing behaviour is influenced by commercial interests, yet doctors find it hard to accept this. This collective denial would suggest that the forthcoming (voluntary) ABPI Register is unlikely to work as many will regard it as not applying to them and will therefore opt out.

As part of their consideration of my petition, the Scottish Government commissioned a public consultation exercise on a need or not for a Sunshine Act. The majority of participants expressed their view that all financial payments should be declared on a single, central, searchable register and that this should be a mandatory requirement.

The forecast for Scotland looks good: sunshine.