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.’