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Pharmaceutical industry paid Irish doctors €3.7 million for "undisclosed" reasons in 2015

The industry’s payments to both doctors and healthcare institutions here is under the spotlight at present.

shutterstock_71661760 Source: Shutterstock/ravl

THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY made payments worth €6.8 million to Irish doctors and €10.7 million to Irish healthcare institutions in 2015.

The disclosure of figures has come following a report into the operations of Big Pharma in Ireland in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post.

That report claims that Big Pharma is paying millions of euro to Irish doctors for education, travel, and speaking fees.

It also suggests that the choice a patient’s doctor may make when prescribing drugs may be influenced by the pharmaceutical industry itself.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Professor Michael Barry, clinical director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, said that “there is little doubt hat the spending of the pharmaceutical industry in this area does influence the prescribing behaviour of doctors”.

“We know that we see a change in the prescribing habits of doctors, some say it leads to non-rational prescribing,” he said.

We even see it ourselves in our own prescribing, when we have a choice of medication for example, the medications we’d use for treating dyspepsia (indigestion) for example – we’ve five choices, and the most frequently prescribed one is the most expensive one, that doesn’t happen by accident.
So marketing works, and that’s why the industry does it.

“Highly regulated”

Speaking on the same programme, Oliver O’Connor, chief executive with the  Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), said that interactions between doctors and clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry is “highly regulated already by European law”.

“The way to make sure that patients know decisions are being made in their interests is to see that there is full disclosure of whatever payments are being made,” he said.

Asked whether or not he accepts that there is a link between payments made by pharmaceutical companies regarding sponsored meetings or educational events and how doctors prescribe, O’Connor responded: “I actually don’t.”

michael barry Professor Michael Barry Source: Rollingnews.ie

“No one in this report has offered any evidence whatsoever that doctors in Ireland have prescribed inappropriately for their patients.”

Doctors are under obligations under Medical Council rules to have good prescribing practice, and to put the patient at the heart of their prescribing decisions.

If there’s a problem it is with doctors not adhering to those rules.

Professor Barry retorted: “There is no such thing as a free lunch here.”

“Doctors are influenced by the spend of pharmaceutical companies. The fact is, the industry paid €6.8 million on 3,000 payments to doctors last year. It spent €10.7 million to healthcare institutions, many of them hospital,” he said.

€3.7 million was undisclosed. Now what was that for?

According to O’Connor that €3.7 million is for instances in which “doctors have not given their consent” for payments made to them to be made public.

“We put out transparency rules this summer – we’ve encouraged them (doctors) to consent to payments being made public.”

If there is any breach of that it’s important that it be brought to the Medical Council and not aired simply in the media, everybody has a duty.

Regarding the fact that many of the payments made have been regarding educational events, Professor Barry said “there is no role for the pharmaceutical industry in medical education”.

“The pharmaceutical industry’s job is to sell medicines, not educate doctors. They have a marketing budget, not an education budget,” he said.

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