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Drugs sponsorship under MP scrutiny

Pharmaceutical company sponsorship of patient groups has been thrust into the spotlight by an MPs' inquiry amid concerns over their influence on NICE guidance

The role of patient groups has come under increasing scrutiny recently after intense lobbying to the institute over its drug appraisals, prompting calls for far more transparency over funding sources.

Charlotte Atkins, Labour MP for Staffordshire Moorlands and member of the Commons health select committee, told Pulse: 'The whole thing should be more transparent. We want to know exactly what help is being provided. It's not just financial; it's pro bono as well.'

At a health select committee hearing, several witnesses were grilled at length on the issue. Dr Kiran Patel, chair of trustees of the South Asian Health Foundation and consultant cardiologist in Sandwell, told the hearing:

'There are groups out there who are heavily backed by industry and do not have high levels of transparency. They want to push specific illness-oriented drugs and there may not be transparency when those groups provide input as stakeholders to NICE.'

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry code of practice says all relationships with patient groups should be open and transparent, but does not require sums given to be declared.

There is also a grey area around free assistance given by PR companies with pharma clients.

But the ABPI defended the status quo, saying: 'Patient groups guard their independence jealously and rightly so.'

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