‘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.

 

Unrealistic Medicine

This BMJ Editorial of the 30th June 2017 has had a number of responses:

The Editorial was a consideration of Academy of Medical Sciences report ‘Enhancing the use of scientific evidence to judge the potential harms and benefits of medicines’.

The President of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chair of the Report, Professor Sir John Tooke, has submitted this reply:

It is most welcome for Professor Sir John Tooke to set out his further thoughts but I found that what he said did not reassure me about the future of science and so submitted this response:

Unrealistic Medicine
Written by Peter, 15 July 2017
Submitted as BMJ Rapid Response.

The further thoughts of Professor Sir John Tooke, Chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences report ‘Enhancing the use of scientific evidence to judge the potential harms and benefits of medicines’ are most welcome.

Professor Sir John Tooke does not reassure me that an era of unrealistic medicine and the business of science will change anytime soon. Meantime the NHS is struggling across the United Kingdom and this may be in part due to the promotion of medical interventions whose evidence base lacks the objectivity that we all surely seek.

I would suggest that most of us fully understand the “reminder” from the Academy of Medical Sciences that potential conflicts of interest can come in all forms and not just financial. But like the public I share the view that we should start with potential financial conflicts of interest as evidence has determined that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients  Godlee and Freer remind us that we expect this from our elected politicians and in other areas of public life.

The voluntary ABPI Register is not working. Its database is only a little more than half complete. This really does challenge the “E” in EBM.

The pharmaceutical Industry has, over the preceding year, increased payments to healthcare workers for “promotional activities” from £109 million to £116.5 million.  This is a major part of Industry budget. Furthermore, we do not know how much may be being paid by device makers and other forms of industry for promotion of their products.

It is welcome, but somewhat “after the bell has rung”, that Professor Sir John Tooke confirms that the Academy of Medical Sciences intends to “review” its approach to public transparency. But one wonders how many “houses” do we need to “get in order” to address this issue effectively? I find myself worrying that it could be like a game of Monopoly that never seems to end.

The most effective and cheapest way to address this matter would be Sunshine legislation. This would avoid multiple, overlapping and generally unsearchable databases of interests.

I would suggest that the reputation of science is at stake as is the balance between benefits and harms for us all

Roy Porter, who sadly died prematurely was considered as one of the United Kingdom’s finest historians of science and health. He ends “Madness: A Brief History “ with a teasing question: ‘Is folly jingling its bells again?’

 

We need a Renaissance of Generalists

I aspire to be a generalist.

We live between the microscope and the telescope. I am of the view that the art and science of being a doctor requires such necessary width of focus.

Bettina Piko argued in 2002 that we need a “renaissance of polymaths”. It saddens me to consider that the western world, in the time since, has encouraged, and supported, the greater development of specialisms.

This post is about General Practice. My wife Sian has been a GP for more than 25 years.

This week the Royal College of General Practitioners has accused the Scottish Government of “longstanding under funding” of General Practice.

1 in 4 GP practices have a vacancy in Scotland.

I found myself part of a conversation about the current and future state of General Practice on the Stephen Jardine programme, Radio Scotland, on the 14th July 2017:

Psychiatry Without Borders

The International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists took place in Edinburgh, the city of my birth, between the 26 – 29 June 2017. This International Congress was called “Psychiatry Without Borders”.

As a psychiatrist who has worked in NHS Scotland for 25 years I made a peaceful protest outside the International Congress.

I have previously petitioned the Scottish Parliament to consider a Sunshine Act for Scotland which would make it mandatory for healthcare workers and academics to declare potential financial conflicts of interest on an open public register.

The pharmaceutical Industry has this year increased payments to healthcare workers and academics for ‘promotional activities’ –  from £109 million up to £116.5 million today.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has, from 2015, established a voluntary disclosure system with searchable database. It remains the case that 65% of those who have received payments have opted out – and this accounts for 60% of the total payments (as reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2017;357:j3195)

What follows here are the ABPI disclosures made by some of the speakers at the 2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists International Congress.

It is important to note that it is my understanding that no speaker 
was paid for giving presentations at this International Congress. 

These declarations relate simply to the voluntary declarations
for the years 2015 and 2016 respectively.

If you click on each declaration you will get a closer view.

In previous posts I have provided as much public transparency as there is currently available  relating to the potential financial conflicts of interest of those involved with the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP). This Association works closely with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in providing Continuing Medical Education.

A number of those involved in BAP have chosen not to declare on the ABPI Register. For this reason, I attach the declarations given along with the new BAP Guidelines for treating dementia as Professor John O’Brien was giving a talk about these guidelines at the 2017 International Congress:

A few personal thoughts:

Well done to those who have declared on the ABPI Register.

However, it remains the case that we cannot scientifically consider the scale of potential biases that financial incentives may bring to the prescribing of medications in the UK. This is because we have an incomplete dataset. This is surprising given that we do have longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

I would like to see the College, of which I am a member, support the public’s request for sunshine legislation.

 

 

Are the public being listened to?

This is a current Editorial in the BMJ:
Below are a few extracts from this editorial: In a similar vein to Carl Heneghan, I have outlined that there is a problem with the E in CME (Continuing Medical Education)

Sharing the BMJ Editors concerns about a failure of the Academy of Medical Sciences to take necessary action to ensure trust in science (EBM) and education (CME) this response was submitted:

“We could not agree more with Dr Tom Robinson in that we can only gain the trust of the public if we listen to them. One of us (Dr Peter J Gordon) raised a petition with the Scottish Parliament to consider a Sunshine Act for Scotland, and as part of this a consultation was undertaken with the Scottish public. The majority of those consulted agreed that it should be mandatory for all financial conflicts of interest to be declared on a public register. The Academy of Medical Sciences has gone no further than recommending the development of “frameworks for declaring and managing interests” . We would suggest that this will do nothing to restore the public’s trust.”

Dr Peter J Gordon and Dr Sian F Gordon

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:

“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.

 

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.

Continuing Medical “Education”

To be revalidated by the General Medical Council all UK doctors have to evidence participation in Continuing Medical Education (CME). This is based upon an accredited system of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

CPD is mandatory.

This Hole Ousia post considers CPD for UK psychiatrists.

This week I was included in a circular e-mail that ‘sign-posted’ this free CPD educational opportunity for trainee psychiatrists. I was asked to share this with trainees.

BAP is acronym for the British Association of Psychopharmacology. I frequently hear colleagues describe it as “the place to go to” for CPD.

This is the current Calendar:

I have written on a number of occasions over the last few years to BAP about transparency of financial conflicts of interest:

BAP have now significantly improved on transparency and each speaker now has a link to any declared financial interests. This is available to professionals and public alike.

The declarations however give no details of amounts paid for any particular service.

BAP educational events are regularly advertised in the British Journal of Psychiatry

The Chief Executive of the Royal College of Psychiatrists recently offered this reassurance (Psychiatric Bulletin, December 2016):

Last year £340 million was paid by the Pharmaceutical Industry to UK healthcare workers for “promotional activities”.

There is currently a voluntary register (ABPI).

The BMJ reported this in March 2017:

As it stands, professionals, patients and public alike can have no clear understanding of where this £340 million went to in the UK for “promotional activities”.

However we do have evidence that promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

Returning to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) calendar that the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP) is currently providing. It took me a full day to go through the declarations. These follow below, in alphabetical order of  educator:





In summary it is encouraging to see these declarations of financial interests for BAP educators. This is a group of professionals who have a position of significant influence over the prescribing patterns of current and future psychiatrists. This means that even those doctors who regard themselves as not being subject to conflicts of interest may be indirectly influenced.

It is my concern that this potential influence is not always recognised by colleagues attending CPD in good faith and this is my reason for compiling this post.