‘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.

“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.

 

A letter that the Scottish Parliament felt unable to publish

With careful thought, and backed with full supporting evidence,  I sent the following letter of the 2nd February 2016 to support my petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland.

The Senior Clerk of the Parliamentary Committee was of the view that this letter did not comply with the Scottish Parliament’s policy on the treatment of written evidence. I was therefore asked to redact significant sections of the letter.

After considerable communications to and fro, I replied as per this e-mail of the 3rd March 2016:

I fully respect the right of the Scottish Parliament to determine 
what it publishes.

I feel very strongly that my letter without the highlighted text 
merely reiterates what I have already said, and fails to provide 
the evidence that I have repeatedly been asked for.

So my position is that I do not wish to amend my letter of the 
1st February on PE1493.

My petition has since been closed. I therefore have decided to publish my letter to the Scottish Parliament in full along with supporting evidence. I have had professional advice that what is contained in this letter is not defamatory as it is based on veritas and has full supporting evidence:

Dear Mr McMahon
Petition PE01493: A Sunshine Act for Scotland

I realise that the Committee must receive a great amount of correspondence however I hope that the committee might agree that what follows is extremely important when considering PE1493.

Since I last wrote to the committee I attended, for accredited continuing medical education, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland Winter Meeting held on the 29th January 2016. It is this that has compelled me to write this update as it demonstrates beyond doubt that lack of transparency around financial conflicts of interest remains a serious issue. An issue with implications for both patient safety and healthcare budgets. It also demonstrates that Government action is the only way to address this.

The full powerpoint presentations of this Accredited meeting for 
Continuing Professional Development can be accessed here - but only
for members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

I am a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and I am of the 
view, as a scientist, that these lectures should be available to all 
and not just to members.

One speaker highlighted the increase in prescribing costs in her health board area which was due to the high prescribing rate of a new antipsychotic injection, palperidone depot (XEPLION®). The next speaker demonstrated both the inferior effectiveness of this drug when compared to existing (far cheaper) depot medications and the perception amongst Scottish psychiatrists that it was more effective. Below you will see the flyer sent to mental health professionals in Scotland when this drug was launched:

002 Financial Conflicts of Interest, Scottish Psychiatry

I have highlighted one of the paid speakers, Dr Mark Taylor, because he also spoke at this week’s meeting where he reminded us that he was Chair of SIGN Guideline 131: The Management of Schizophrenia, which was published in March 2013.

At this week’s meeting Dr Taylor presented his declarations as follows: “Fees/hospitality: Lundbeck; Janssen, Otsuka; Roche; Sunovion”.

Dr Taylor commented on these declarations with the statement that “you are either abstinent or promiscuous when it comes to industry. Well you can see which side I am on”. Audience laughter followed.

The general question that arises is whether an influential professional such as a Chair of National Guidelines might earn more from the pharmaceutical industry than in his or her role as a healthcare professional? At present it is impossible for anyone to establish the scale of competing financial interests. To remind the committee the following avenues are not illuminating:

1. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This week’s meeting did not appear on the college database. In any case this database is neither searchable nor does it include specific details of payments and dates

2. NHS Boards. The committee has already established that, across Scotland, HDL62 is not being followed.

3. SIGN guidelines. The committee is aware of significant governance failings particularly in comparison with NICE which includes details of financial sums paid and associated dates.

4. Discussions with Senior Managers in NHS Scotland relating to the General Medical Council’s expected level of transparency has brought forth written responses describing my interest as “highly unusual” and “offensive and unprofessional”

5. The forthcoming ABPI register allows any professional to opt out of inclusion.

It is also worth repeating that the information provided to the public consultation on this petition failed to highlight most of the issues identified in points 1 to 5 above.

In terms of cost both to the public purse and the individual patient the Government’s stated wish for a “robust, transparent and proportionate” response would be fulfilled if a single, searchable, open register of financial conflicts of interest that has a statutory basis were to be introduced

“A robust learning environment for healthcare professionals”

I have recently posted on the promotion of Lurasidone (Latuda) in the UK. This has raised concerns for me about transparency of conflicts of interest for some of the key doctors and academics involved with the research, development and promotion of this novel antipsychotic.

One of those who has most significant financial interests is Professor Stephen Stahl. In “partnership with” the British Association for Psychopharmacology he recently gave this “Expert Seminar” at the University of Bristol:

Expert Seminar Lurasidone Stahl 1

This “Expert Seminar” is introduced by Professor Stahl as follows:

Expert Seminar Lurasidone Stahl 2

And here is the Programme for this “robust learning environment” which is co-chaired by British Psychiatrist and Academic, Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams:

Expert Seminar Lurasidone Stahl 7

“Application” was made by Sunovion for CPD approval to the Federation of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom.

Expert Seminar Lurasidone Stahl 3

Summary:
This “robust learning environment for UK health professionals” has left me asking some questions:

  1. Were the healthcare professionals made aware that Professor Stahl has been paid over $3.5 million dollars since August 2013 by 15 Pharnmaceutical companies including SUNOVION?
  2. Can healthcare professionals and the public easily access Professor Stahl’s declaration of financial interests as required by the British Association for Psychopharmacology?
  3. What is the rationale of the Governance Panel for the British Association for Psychopharmacology in approving such “robust learning environments” for healthcare workers?
  4. Was this “Expert Seminar” approved for CPD by the Federation of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom?
  5. Where can the public find which healthcare workers received such “robust learning”?

“A huge number of ‘bipolars’ are missed”

This letter has been published in the current edition of The BMJ:Quetiapine adverse reactions

Reading this letter my thoughts returned to a lecture given by Professor Allan Young at a Royal College of Psychiatrists, CPD-approved conference, in September 2014:Prof-Allan-Young2

Professor Allan Young gave no declarations of interest in his speaker biography:Outline of conference 26 Sept 14

Professor Allan Young’s speaker biography demonstrates that he is a “key opinion leader”:Prof-Allan-Young1

At the start of his talk Professor Allan Young put up this slide of his declarations of interest. Professor Allan Young did not talk through his declarations and the slide was not up long enough for the audience to read it through:

Prof Allan Young declarations 26-9-14

I recorded these quotes made by Professor Allan Young as given by him on 26 Sept 2014:

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

McQueen, 2011 “They missed out my trial” [Embolden trial]

CropperCapture[1]

NICE, for not taking it into account at all [Embolden trial] is rather questionable”

“Quetiapine as a mood stabiliser is the Holy Grail for Bipolar Depression” commenting on work “adapted from Peters”:

“Major Depressive Disorder (“MDD”) will generally end up as Bipolar Disorder”

“A huge number of ‘bipolars’ are missed”

“SParCLE study demonstrated that Lithium is slower than Quetiapine”

Professor Allan Young’s “Key Points slide” for “the pharmacological management of Bipolar Depression”P1030863

The forthcoming 52nd Maudsley debate. The motion is “This house believes that long term use of psychiatric medications is causing more harm than good”. One of those arguing against the motion is Professor Allan Young

52nd Maudsley debate 2015