Aileen Thompson (pictured), executive director, comms at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), told delegates at PRWeek's PR360 event in London last week: "The biggest challenge that we have facing our reputation is transparency and we have decided with our members over the past 18 months that we are going to, this summer, publish the payments that we give to individual doctors, nurses and pharmacists."
She said that many medical professions attended meetings or conferences and sat on advisory boards alongside their day jobs, and that the payments or reimbursements for attending these often led to insinuations in the media.
Thompson said: "You would have been having to live on Mars if you haven’t seen the kind of coverage that some newspapers have reported in this area, particularly when some doctors and nurses have gone to more luxurious hotels for meetings and questions have been asked about whether that gives value to the NHS. We want to be able to open the lid on payments to healthcare professionals in a publicly searchable database launching in June this year."
Thompson pointed out that in the US, healthcare professionals are required by law to publish details of their remuneration from the pharmaceutical industry. This is not the case in the UK, but she noted that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had warned last year that NHS staff who did not disclose payments and hospitality from companies that manufacture medical devices or drugs would be sanctioned under possible new regulations.
The ABPI has previously published aggregated payment data, which did not break down which individuals had been paid. Planning for the new regime goes back more than 12 months.
This drive for greater transparency by the ABPI is part of a wider campaign to improve the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry – as PRWeek reported in February, the trade body is also rolling out plans to be more proactive in promoting the positive aspects of the industry.
Recent months have seen mounting criticism of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over healthcare professionals, fuelled by an investigation by The Daily Telegraph that revealed that senior NHS staff were taken on expensive trips and paid thousands of pounds by drug companies pushing for their products to be used by the health service.
It remains to be seen how successful the ABPI will be in persuading healthcare professionals to disclose the amounts they get from pharmaceutical companies. For while 68 per cent agree that payments to individual doctors, nurses and pharmacists should be publicly declared, a significant proportion, 32 per cent, view it as unnecessary, according to research done by the industry trade body.
"We are facing a challenge of seeing how many of those healthcare professionals who we have worked with choose not to reveal their data, to be anonymous, versus those who may want to come forward... and this is a huge part of our work at the moment," Thompson said.