Nurses and midwives received at least £3 million in payments and benefits from the UK pharmaceutical industry last year, analysis by Nursing Times has revealed.
Data published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) last week shows there were more than 5,100 payments to individual named nurses for conference registration fees, travel and accommodation, and consultancy in 2016.
“We’re very proud of what we do and proud about the healthcare professionals we work with – these are amazing people, they have fantastic insights”
These ranged from just £3 to more than £25,800 and add up to more than £2.98m in total, according to the ABPI’s Disclosure UK database, which records payments from drugs companies to healthcare professionals and organisations.
This represents an increase on the £2.19m paid out to nurses by pharmaceutical firms the previous year - when the highest known payment to an individual nurse was £16,750, with companies sometimes funding or part-funding specialist nursing posts.
However, the sum may represent just a fraction of payments to nurses because some may be listed on the database under their speciality or trust instead of being specifically identified as nurses.
Meanwhile others may have chosen not to have their details disclosed.
This is only the second set of annual data to come out of the Disclosure UK database initiative, which is part of a Europe-wide effort to boost transparency.
Compared to the first year, the 2016 database provides more detailed information on the specific roles of healthcare professionals who received payments and consented to their details being published.
Nursing roles listed include chief nurse, nurse, midwife and school nurse. Over 50 individual “chief nurses” are recorded as having received payments or benefits on the database, just four named midwives and three school nurses, with the rest listed as “nurses”.
The figures show the bulk of payments to all types of nurses and midwives was in the form of fees for services and consultancy - at just under £1.5million - with an additional £214,000 in expenses related to consultancy and service contracts.
Around £986,000 was paid out for travel and accommodation expenses and nearly £290,000 for conference registration fees.
While the publication of this kind of information has been welcomed, it also raises questions about the extent of pharma firm’s influence on key areas such as prescribing.
”We don’t think there is any bad practice…But in a sense the only way you can prove that is…by having this level of transparency”
However, ABPI chief executive Mike Thompson said the organisation did not believe there was any “bad practice” going on and the drug industry’s relationship with healthcare professionals was “something to celebrate”.
“This is not about us clamping down on bad practice – actually we don’t think there is any bad practice,” he told a press briefing last week.
“But in a sense the only way you can prove that is – in the end – by having this level of transparency.
“If there is anything that was a bit funny then getting to a position where it is all transparent is the surest way of ensuring that doesn’t happen,” he said.
“We’re very proud of what we do and proud about the healthcare professionals we work with – these are amazing people, they have fantastic insights. I think patients would be incredibly pleased that the expertise they have is being brought to bear to try and bring better medications through to patients in the future,” he added.
Nurses have cited conference fees and other opportunities provided by drugs firms as a valuable source of continuing professional development – especially given the current financial constraints on the NHS.
Overall, the database shows pharma firms spent a total of £454.5 million on work with nurses, doctors and others in 2016 – a 25% increase on the £363 million paid out the previous year.
Nearly three quarters of payments – just over £338 million - relate to research and development activities, which are not broken down into individual payments. This is up by about a third since 2015.
The remaining £116.5 million were payments and benefits in kind such as consultancy fees and other expenses for individual healthcare professionals and sponsorship, donations and grants to healthcare organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, which is shown to have received more than £40,000 in total from various drug firms including GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, and Pfizer.
“We require the consent of healthcare professionals to disclose this data so… if they chose not to do it, it means there is absolutely nothing we can do”
In 2016, 82% of non-research payments were disclosed as going to a named individual or healthcare organisation.
Under the ABPI’s code of practice all pharma firms must declare payments to healthcare professionals but it is up to those professionals whether or not they give consent for the full details - including their name – to be published.
The estimated figures show an increase in the percentage of healthcare professionals willing to disclose details of the payments they received.
In 2015 just 55% of healthcare professionals gave permission for their names to be published but this increased to 65% in 2016.
These who gave their consent in 2016 received around 60% of the £116.5m paid out for non-research activities.
Nursing Times’ analysis suggests there are slightly fewer named nurses listed on the 2016 database compared with the previous year – just over 5,100 in 2015 compared to 5,500 in 2016.
”We rely upon leading experts to help in terms of designing clinical trials..and the work we do with nurses who help us to write patients leaflets”
However, it is not possible to say what percentage of the total number of nurses receiving payments or benefits gave their consent for their details to be published in either year and whether that has gone up or down.
The ABPI has said its goal is to achieve 100% disclosure but Mr Thompson said there were some clinicians who “can’t be bothered” because the sums involved were small while others were squeamish about people knowing how much they earned.
“We require the consent of healthcare professionals to disclose this data so the Data Protection Act means that if they chose not to do it, it means there is absolutely nothing we can do,” he said.
He said it was absolutely the right thing” for staff to be transparent, noting that staff should also be proud of the “vital” work they do in bringing new medicines to the market.
“We rely upon leading experts to help in terms of designing clinical trials all the way through to the work we do with nurses who help us to write patients leaflets in language that patients will understand,” he said.