British doctors were paid more than £40m by the pharmaceutical industry last year, according to data highlighting the extent of links between drug producers and prescribers.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry tallied figures from 18 of the 20 largest drug companies among its members for payments covering sponsorship and consultancy and speaking fees to healthcare professionals in the UK.
The figures will rekindle the debate over the potential for conflicts of interest in drug companies influencing prescribing practices. Industry critics arguing that some medicines are given more widely than is justified by efficacy and safety data.
However, in the UK the industry’s influence on individual prescribers is curtailed by the scrutiny given both by drug regulators and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, as well as individual health authorities.
The release of the information marks a fresh effort at voluntary disclosure by the industry in the UK, following legislation forcing greater information on payments in countries including the US, the Netherlands and France.
The UK data currently only provide aggregate payments, although trade bodies across Europe have promised to release further details from next year, to include the details of payments to individual doctors – something becoming widespread in the US following a series of litigations.
Individual statements by drug companies show a range of payment sizes in 2012. AstraZeneca reports it paid £671,000 to 900 healthcare professionals for speaking, chairing, advising and training, £30,000 in travel and accommodation from its UK subsidiary, and a further £388,000 in fees to 90 professionals from its global operations. It has stopped funding foreign travel to attend scientific conferences.
GlaxoSmithKline paid £1.9m to 1,500 UK-based healthcare professionals providing advice and consultancy in 2012. Sanofi paid £563,000 in fees to 500 professionals and £430,000 for expenses in attending third party meetings.
While “sunshine legislation” has yet to come into force in the US, disclosures required by regulators of individual companies in the US already show $2bn paid by 15 companies since 2009.
Get alerts on UK politics & policy when a new story is published