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Keeping our impartiality

Recently I attended a support group meeting for GP appraisers. Upon arrival, it became apparent that the event was sponsored by a biotechnology information provider, which funded the cold buffet.

A representative of the organisation started to give a presentation, the audience's photos were taken without prior notice or permission, and we were told that all GPs' details had been entered onto its database as interested parties.

At this point, a heated protest ensued and the photography and presentation were stopped. There had been no consultation about the inclusion of this area of biotechnology in the meeting and many of us saw no relevance to our learning needs. The GP organiser of the meeting admitted the mistake and apologised.

However, this episode highlights ethical issues which will increasingly present dilemmas under proposed NHS changes. With greater involvement of the private sector in the NHS, and with GP consortia holding the purse-strings, it will be a matter of discernment and probity which products or organisations GPs are seen to endorse. Some companies will not share the same values as GPs and many will protect their interests and information through commercial confidentiality.

GPs must be consulted and agree what a company's involvement will be, and retain the right of veto, if we wish to safeguard ethical decision making and impartiality.

From Dr Ruth Taylor
Islington, north London