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"

 

 

Your Parliament, Your Voice

The Commission on Parliamentary Reform published its Report on the Scottish Parliament this week. It is a most welcome review and one that has my full support.

The Editor of the Scotsman gave his view (21 June 2017):

Johann Lamont, MSP is quoted in the Scotsman of 21 June 2017:

My petition to the Scottish Parliament, PE1493, “A Sunshine Act for Scotland” was closed in early Spring of 2016. I was impressed by the organisation and the effort put into the wider consideration of my petition by all involved with the Public Petitions Committee.

A Public Consultation was carried out on my petition by the Scottish Health Council and this was published in March 2016. The public, in majority, agreed with the petition.

More than 15 months on since my petition was closed and the public have had no update from the Scottish Government. I wrote to the Scottish Parliament to ask that an update be requested from the Scottish Government but the short reply that they received lacked any substantial content. It has become familiar to many of those engaging with the Scottish Government to receive replies such as this that lack in transparency and openness.

The Scottish Parliament has told me that they can do no more and advised me to seek help from a constituency MSP. To me, this is like going backwards to the start.

I thus very much support the Review published by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform and hope that it will ensure that the public have a meaningful voice in helping the Scottish Parliament hold the Scottish Government to account.

One of the main themes of this petition is genuine transparency

What follows is a transcript of a letter that I have sent to the 
Scottish Parliament on my petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland:

Scottish Parliament Public Petition PE1493 on a Sunshine Act for Scotland

Letter from the petitioner, Dr Peter J. Gordon, 20th November 2015

Dear Members of the Petition Committee,
I thought that it might be helpful to give you a brief summary on matters relating to my petition.

The Scottish Government has commissioned the Scottish Health Council to undertake consultation with the public. This is underway with ten separate discussion groups with somewhere less than 100 participants overall.

Scottish Government and Scottish Health Council (HIS)

As petitioner I met with the Scottish Health Council in June and was asked to provide a summary to help in preparing information to act as the basis for the discussion among the participants. I was asked by the Scottish Government if I wanted to review the information that they had compiled but was confident that the Scottish Government would provide a balanced summary including the evidence that had been carefully compiled for this petition.

Having now seen the “information” provided by the Scottish Government, that forms the basis of the consultations, I now feel that I was naïve to have been so trusting.

This petition would not have been raised, nor indeed considered by the committee, had it not been for the following evidence, evidence which has not been provided to the discussion groups:

  1. Current systems for declaring financial interests are failing in Scotland. No board in NHS Scotland has properly complied with the Scottish Government Guidance on transparency issued more than 12 years ago.
  2. The pharmaceutical industry, on average, spends twice as much on marketing activities as it does on innovation and developing new drugs. If healthcare workers are “educated” by those whose first loyalty is to shareholders then scientific impartiality may suffer. Each year healthcare workers have to ensure they have met professional requirements for continuing medical education. In at least two NHS Boards in Scotland, it is the case that medical education is entirely supported by sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry.
  3. At least forty separate SIGN Guidelines, all currently in operation, have no records of the financial interests of those tasked to draw up the guidelines. This is concerning as these guidelines are generally followed by doctors to inform prescribing decisions for a wide range of medical conditions.
  4. A single, central register (rather than multiple failing registers) has been found in the USA and France to be relatively simple to set up and administer.

As petitioner my overwhelming concern is that by presenting unbalanced information the Scottish Government has arranged consultations which will lack in validity. One of the main themes of this petition is genuine transparency. I am therefore also disappointed to note that the authors of the information provided are not identified.

I realise that the consultation process is well under way but felt it important to present to the committee the significant concerns which I have.

 

 

I no longer feel safe

I have reluctantly decided that I am no longer going to write any posts about NHS Scotland on Hole Ousia. I will however still continue to discuss health and wellbeing in the context of the “two cultures”.

My reason is that I no longer feel safe to speak out individually as an employee of NHS Scotland.

I will continue to advocate for transparency and accountability.

I feel very lucky to be a doctor. The NHS is so important to me. I have so many wonderful colleagues and I never cease to learn from the Scottish folk that I try to help when in a time of need.

I will always try my best to put patients first. That is the way I am. I do not agree with those who suggest that such a determination might be considered as a sign of illness.

Dr Peter J. Gordon

The Friends of Liberty from omphalos on Vimeo.

A Friend of Liberty: Professor Walter Humes

Professor Walter Humes, writing in Scottish Review, 21st September 2015:

“For some time I have been copied into email exchanges concerning how complaints against public bodies are dealt with. I have no personal stake in any of the specific sources of concern (which include patient care in the NHS and responses by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to requests for formal investigations). I do, however, have a long-standing interest in issues of public accountability and am familiar with the various techniques used by bureaucratic organisations to avoid responsibility when things go wrong: these include silence, delay, evasion, buck-passing and attempts to discredit complainants.”

The Friends of Liberty from omphalos on Vimeo.

“Those who hold high office in public bodies are very adept at defending their own interests. They may claim to support openness and transparency but those principles are not always translated into practice. Bureaucratic Scotland often falls short of the democratic ideals which are said to underpin civic life”

Stephen Stahl: $3,581,159 in payments from Pharma

In my last post I considered the level of transparency provided by the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP) in relation to its recently published Guidelines on prescribing for depressive disorders.

This post, will very briefly look at the programme for the recent 2015 Summer Meeting and specifically the issue of transparency:

07BAP

If you download the programme and then type “declaration” into text search you get zero responses.

The programme does list these sponsors:

08BAP

I noticed that Stephen Stahl was giving several keynote educational talks on day one of this conference for the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP). Stephen Stahl is a world-wide “key opinion leader” who has his home in California.

09BAP

In America all payments to individual doctors and academics must be provided for the public. This being a statutory requirement of a Sunshine Act. All payments can be established by typing into a searchable database called dollars for docs.

Here is the return, as at the time for writing, for Dr Stephen Stahl:

Stephen Stahl

In the United Kingdom the public have no way of establishing if or how much individual British doctors or academics may have been paid by the pharmaceutical industry or by other commercial companies. When these individuals are involved in educating the healthcare profession or drawing up guidelines this situation needs to change. And soon.

 

 

Sign Guideline 98: Autism Spectrum Disorders

I was recently asked by Autism Rights if SIGN Guideline 98 had records of financial interests for all those involved in developing this national guideline. The answer is no. Along with 38 other separate guidelines, all operational today in NHS Scotland,  no records of financial conflicts of interest are available. These were destroyed by SIGN.

SIGN 98 - no register of interest

I raised my concerns about this in a letter that was published in the BMJ on the 6th January 2014: SIGN should be transparent about competing interests in all current guidelines

SIGN guidelines have changed in approach to transparency since I wrote and all newly published guidelines now have declarations of interest included in “supporting material”.

These declarations are available on-line such as this one for SIGN Guideline 131: Management of Schizophrenia. It is interesting to compare this with the considerably more thorough approach to declarations of interest as contained in the equivalent NICE guidelineCG178 Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: treatment and management 

I recently re-visited the approach taken by SIGN to transparency. I did so as one NHS Board recently stated in writing that they consider my concern about this as “most unusual”.

I started this post with Autism Rights. I would like to conclude with them. In the two articles linked below Fiona Sinclair describes the struggle to make sense of changes in Scottish mental health legislation. Part of this considers the importance of transparency of financial interests in NHS Scotland.

My view is that Fiona Sinclair has provided us with important and informed summaries. I have thus urged MSPs, the Mental Welfare Commission, and third-sector organisations to consider the points that are raised within them.

(1) Autism and the madness of the Mental Health Act

(2) We should face up to the madness of the Scottish mental health system

Public consultation on a Sunshine Act for Scotland

As petitioner for a Sunshine Act I recently met with the Scottish Health Council regarding consultation with the public on my petition.

Since this meeting I have been reflecting on how the Scottish Health Council may go about such a consultation given the various options that we discussed. I have also sought confirmation as to whether the Scottish Government has allocated any resource for this public consultation.

I share the ambition of the Scottish Government that we seek views as widely as possible across Scotland given the importance of this petition.I think that it would be sensible for the Scottish Health Council to take a variety of interactive approaches and methods.

I am also aware that not everyone is online and so perhaps there is need to consider paper questionnaires which might also be sent to community interest groups.  Another approach would be through qualitative in-depth interviews, semi-structured, with individuals.  This should be with a mix of ages and backgrounds, and geographic areas. It would be sensible to include open-ended questions as well as more direct closed questions.

I wonder if the Scottish Health Council could also target focus groups already in existence and write to them, asking to visit and facilitate a discussion.

My petition has been considered 6 times now by a parliamentary committee and has generated a lot of evidence which has been carefully considered. I would wish, as petitioner, to see a proportionate input on public consultation. My view is that this is an important matter that may have significant consequences for the best possible approach to Scottish citizens requiring healthcare.

I do hope that the Scottish Health Council is given sufficient time and sufficient resources to undertake a meaningful public consultation.

The Scottish Government has repeated several times, that as the petitioner, I am virtually alone as a healthcare worker to have raised concerns about lack of transparency in NHS Scotland. I would strongly suggest that this may reflect the sort of NHS culture that Robert Francis has described in recent reports, where staff are fearful of the consequences of raising issues such as this.

Freedom to speak up

The Scottish health Council asked me if I would attempt a summary to explain the background to this petition and why it might matter to the individual. My first draft of this is below:

Peter-Sunshine,-Jan-2015

Sunshine Act: what is it and why might it matter to you?

In September 2013, Dr Peter J Gordon petitioned the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland. The parliament has now considered this petition on 6 separate occasions and, having gathered much evidence, now wishes to seek the views of the Scottish public.

A Sunshine Act has been introduced in both France and America. The Act would make it necessary (a statutory requirement) for all healthcare workers and academics to declare any financial interests on a regular basis. These financial interests would be recorded in a single, searchable register that is fully open to the public.

We know that in one year £40 million was paid by the pharmaceutical industry to healthcare workers and academics in the UK. It is likely that approximately £4 million of this was paid to Scottish healthcare workers and academics. Payments most often relate to the provision of sponsored medical education in the forms of honoraria or for being Advisors to Pharmaceutical Boards. The amounts paid to individuals can be significant. One NHS Consultant said to me at an educational meeting “I was paid £3000 for this talk and I do not even prescribe the drug myself”.

The pharmaceutical industry, on average, spends twice as much on marketing activities as it does on innovation and developing new drugs.

Last year, BBC Panorama, did a programme “Who pays your doctor?” It was watched by 2 million viewers. Panorama argued that we expect far higher standards from our politicians than we do from healthcare workers. The concern is that if healthcare workers are “educated” by those whose first loyalty is to shareholders then scientific impartiality may suffer.

Current systems for declaring financial interests are failing in Scotland. No board in NHS Scotland has properly complied with the Scottish Government Guidance on transparency issued more than 12 years ago. Only a tiny proportion of the £4million known to be paid to healthcare workers by the pharmaceutical industry has been recorded in NHS Scotland registers.

Forty-four separate SIGN Guidelines, all currently in operation, have no records of the financial interests of those tasked to draw up the guidelines. This is concerning as these guidelines are generally followed by doctors to inform prescribing decisions for a wide range of medical conditions.

Each year healthcare workers have to ensure they have met professional requirements for continuing medical education. In at least two NHS Boards in Scotland, it is the case that medical education is entirely supported by sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry. As an example, please see this 2014-15 register:

Education to healthcare workers is also provided through attendance at conferences. Most large conferences include “key opinion leaders” who may have been paid by industry to give their talk. Research for this petition has demonstrated that there is no consistent system for recording such financial conflicts of interest amongst the multiple different responsible bodies, such as the Royal Colleges and other professional bodies.

It has been argued that regulation, such as a Sunshine Act, might be an administrative burden and costly. However a single, central register (rather than multiple failing registers) has been found in the USA and France to be relatively simple to set up and administer. Furthermore a single register will cost significantly less than current multiple systems which all overlap and do not provide anywhere near full transparency.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has set up a register of payments to begin next year. Unfortunately any individual can opt out of revealing any payments made to them. Given my research for this petition it is my certain view that the ABPI register will not ensure meaningful transparency and we will have no idea who received the £4million. As a patient you will have no idea if the doctor prescribing medication to you in NHS Scotland has received payments or been educated by those who have received payments.

Our collective healthcare needs to be based on scientific objectivity and such cannot be assured if we have no meaningful transparency. A Sunshine Act is the only way to ensure this.