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Healthcare professionals support increased transparency – but will they disclose? (Guest blog)

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According to a recent poll, the vast majority of UK doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital specialists agree that payments from pharmaceutical companies to individual healthcare professionals (HCPs) should be transparent.

The poll, of more than 500 HCPs, carried out by leading research consultancy ComRes on behalf of the ABPI, shows that 87% believe payments from pharma companies to individually named healthcare professionals should be transparent, with around two-thirds (64%) saying that this information should be publicly declared.

The same proportion (64%) believe this should be declared on a single, publicly searchable, central database. This sounds like good news – the majority of HCPs back the idea of a single, searchable database to disclose payments and benefits in kind made to HCPs – similar to Disclosure UK – the industry database that the ABPI will launch on 30 June.

However, UK data protection legislation means that HCPs can withhold consent for the publication of their disclosure data. So, will the UK’s healthcare community get behind Disclosure UK and increase transparency like the poll suggests?

Initial indications are good. Sixty-six percent of those polled who currently have a relationship with one or more pharma company say they have already given, or are likely to give permission to disclose their payment information. This is down marginally from the 69% intention to disclose figure reported in a similar poll in 2015 but still an encouraging majority. It suggests that two-thirds of HCPs working with pharma are content to disclose their data and help deliver greater transparency around industry and HCP collaborations, which have resulted in life-changing medicines and treatments for patients worldwide – turning life-threatening conditions into manageable illnesses and even curing disease.

Equally positively, the number of HCPs responding that the disclosure of payments to individually names HCPs is unnecessary has gone down to around one-quarter at 26% (32% in 2015).

All of this evidence paints an encouraging picture of healthcare professionals’ engagement with voluntary disclosure in the UK and hints at a truly shared agenda on the importance of these vital relationships, which enable industry to develop medicines that people need as well as when and how they need them.

Until Disclosure UK goes live on 30 June, we will not know for sure how many of those healthcare professionals who worked with industry during 2015 will give us permission to publish their details.

What we do know is that with greater transparency comes greater concern and for many HCPs there are real and valid anxieties that may prevent them from disclosing their data in this way. These include fears that the information will be misrepresented; possible negative perceptions amongst the public; concerns over data protection; potential media coverage; possible negative perceptions amongst peers and their right to privacy.

All of these are understandable. Industry and the healthcare community in the UK are entering, together, a new era of openness. This new era will shine a light on why we work together, the benefits of working together for patients, their families and the NHS, and the remuneration that exists for the time and expertise of the UK’s world-class doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.

If, as this poll indicates, the UK’s healthcare community is largely behind the industry’s drive for greater openness about our relationships, those disclosing should be applauded. For those who still have reservations about disclosure and what it might mean for them, we intend to work with them, through the companies with whom they engage and their professional bodies, to continue to explain the purpose and benefits of disclosure.

Most important of all, we intend to continue building the vital relationships we have with healthcare professionals in order to keep developing and delivering the medicines that make such a profound difference to patients’ lives.

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