Payments to TV doctors

Richard Torbett - Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
Alex Fell - Director of the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA)

Letter by email, 23 May 2024

Copied to: Dr June Raine, CEO of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Charlie Massey, CEO and Registrar of General Medical Council (GMC)

Dear Sirs,

You will no doubt be aware of the level of media interest* and public concern, over the past few weeks at the failure of a number of TV doctors to disclose payments by pharmaceutical companies. We are writing to ask what actions you are intending to take.

Clause 24 of your current ABPI Code of Practice (and Clause 23 of its previous 2019 version) requires ABPI member companies, and other Code adherents, to include provisions relating to disclosure of such payments in contracts with healthcare professionals.  This is how clause 24 of your current Code expresses this requirement:

“in their written contracts or agreements, companies must include provisions regarding the obligation of the individual to:

• declare that they are a contracted individual to the company whenever they write or speak in public about a matter that is the subject of the agreement or any other issue relating to that company”

The TV doctors who have come to public attention over the past few weeks have clearly not disclosed their involvement with relevant pharmaceutical companies. There are two possible scenarios:

1. The pharmaceutical companies concerned did not include the required disclosure provisions in their contracts with these doctors and they are therefore in breach of your Code of Practice. Or…

2. … these companies have decided not to pursue enforcement of these disclosure provisions within the contracts. If this is the case then we must ask why, and what is the point of putting these provisions in a contract in the first place?

In order to maintain trust in advice from doctors, whether via the TV or in the GP surgery, any payments made to them by pharmaceutical companies should be publicly registered and fully disclosed. If a potential conflict of interest is concealed from the public, it is inevitable that trust will be diminished, which is bad for everyone.

The failures of disclosure which have recently come to light will have done nothing to enhance public confidence in the integrity of either the pharmaceutical industry or the healthcare professions with which it interacts. We believe it is important that the ABPI and the PMCPA both respond to the concerns expressed within this letter, investigate them properly, and say clearly what will be done to help restore public confidence in the transparency of relationships between our doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.


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*See coverage in: 

The Daily Mail
The Mirror
Trust the Evidence Substack

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