Sunshine law to shed light on pharma payments

01 Jan 1970 1:00 am by Mark Dunn

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, announced that the rules will make it a criminal offence for certain types of gifts to be made between doctors and pharma companies.

Under the regulations, senior medical staff will be forced to declare any gift or hospitality received from a pharmaceutical company. The penalties for breaches of the new law will range from loss of job to a jail sentence. It will also be mandatory for hospitals and general practitioners to maintain a register of gifts or hospitality made by drug companies to people working in the health service.

An increasingly regulated environment

This so-called 'Sunshine law' has again highlighted the need for pharmaceutical companies to implement effective due diligence procedures to ensure that they stay within what is a rapidly developing international regulatory environment. The new rules are designed to reinforce European regulations over payments by drug firms which will come into force in 2016 and Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) guidelines over the publication of figures showing aggregate payments between British doctors and pharmaceutical firms.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries will require all of its members to disclose all 'transfers of value' from next year. The declarations must include any payments made during 2015. Drug firms will have to publish the full amounts of payments made and break them down according to the relationship with the doctor including consultancy fees and travel expenses.

The need for full disclosure

The ABPI welcomed the new UK regulations. Dr Virginia Acha, ABPI's executive director – Research, Medical and Innovation, said: "We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and NHS England as plans for the 'Sunshine Rule' develop, to ensure that we maximise our combined efforts on disclosure for the benefit of patients and the public.

"It appears that whilst declarations of gifts and hospitality made under the proposed Sunshine Rule signal a common ambition for greater transparency in our relationships, it will cover just a small proportion of the important interaction between industry and HCPs in comparison to our own disclosure requirements.

"For that common ambition for greater transparency to really improve relationships between healthcare professionals and industry, we also need to align on the great value of those relationships to deliver advances in science and treatment for patients, including research.  We have always maintained these interactions are a critical part of advancing improved healthcare outcomes for patients within appropriate and transparent governance frameworks."

Although the number of payments made by pharmaceutical companies to doctors to persuade them to prescribe certain medicines has been in decline, a recent investigation by The Daily Telegraph uncovered senior staff within the NHS who were prepared to take thousands of pounds in return for granting pharmaceutical representatives access to health service managers.

The investigation by the newspaper found that some staff in the health service have been charging up to £15,000 to organise "advisory board" meetings for drugs companies.

Jeremy Hunt MP said that the report suggested that some health service employees making decisions about which drugs should be prescribed by doctors may have been influenced by the largesse of drug companies.

He added: "It's hard not to conclude that some sales reps have been ripping the NHS off, and diverting taxpayers' money away from patient care."

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