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GPs call for public register of doctors' financial interests

Doctors should be forced to declare any payments or appointments that might be a conflict of interest in a register maintained by the GMC, say GPs and other campaigners.

An open letter to the GMC published today and signed by 15 doctors and academics - including GP researcher Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and RCGP president Dr Iona Heath – urges the regulator to consult on introducing a new register of doctors’ interests.

The letter says that it will ensure doctors ‘deserve’ the high level of public trust they are afforded and although it may cause ‘discomfort’ for some but would be a ‘simple and straightforward’ process for most doctors.

It says that doctors should declare interests such as payments from private companies, if they sit on the board of a charity, or care home; if they provide or commission services and even their political affiliation.

GMC guidance already urges doctors to ‘formally’ declare any conflict of interest, but the letter’s authors point out: ‘There is no formal way to declare such interests, especially when the conflicts may subtly influence a doctor’s practice – such as small gifts from the drug industry.’

It adds: ‘Trust between patients and doctors is critical to good medical practice, and doctors are still highly trusted by the public. But we should ensure that we deserve it.’

Estimates from the Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry state that some doctors are paid £40m a year for speaking fees, flights, hotels and other travel expenses but there is no record of who is paid what.

The letter proposes that a publicly available record of interests and payments would allow patients to be the judge of what constitutes a conflict or interest, without requiring a ‘lengthy and potentially irresolvable’ discussion on the matter.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC said: ‘We do not have powers to require doctors to disclose financial interests to us and would need a change in legislation to do this.

‘However, our guidance does make clear that doctors must be open and honest about any financial and commercial interests, and they must not allow these to affect the way they treat, refer, or commission services for, patients.

‘We are committed to reviewing our register to make sure it as relevant, accessible and useful as possible. This is a major piece of work but it will include considering whether we should keep a register of interests.’

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Let common sense prevail

    I am surprised that Dr Iona Heath feels that there is 'no formal way' to record such interests. All CCGs are required to keep a register of interests of all their members (i.e. all GP's), and these registers are in the public domain, published on the CCG websites.
    I see little point in a further expensive bureaucratic process to duplicate this work.
    Am I missing something?

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  • Its nice to know there are a generation of doctors who have so much money they want to set up another expensive quango that will lead to legal conflicts. Thank You

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  • Iona still has a lot to say but surely she is no longer president? How do they ie the 15 members propose to include the public in their campaign? The public is described as a priority but no proactive work to inform or include seems to be taking far is it going to go? Is everyone to be expected to declare their involvement in eg anti/abortion/end of life/FGM campaigns/political memberships..perhaps why not - but how? There is not just the obvious financial gains described in their piece in BMJ to consider but also the influence they may try to wield through their positions in the medical/academic worlds and as finances are needed to campaign are payments made for travel/stays at hotels/ meals and outings etc to be made transparent. Who actually pays for the campaigning work? Favours are made to colleagues and friends to attend functions/speak at conferences national and international - so who decides who receives finances for these activities? And how is it all to be made transparent?

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