DRUG companies will no longer be able to pay for doctors to travel to conferences under new laws proposed by the Greens to get rid of a multimillion-dollar gravy train believed to be contaminating medical practice.
As concern mounts about the influence of drug and medical device companies’ largesse on doctors, Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale said he would introduce a bill to the Senate to clean up the pharmaceutical sector’s interaction with health professionals.
The bill would ban payments for doctors to travel or attend education seminars and conferences domestically and overseas, as well as the sponsorship of educational meetings intended for Australian doctors overseas. It will also ban gifts and promotional items and require companies to report the names of health professionals and the fees they are receiving for services such as speeches or consulting.
In Australia, drug companies are spending about $65 million a year on hosting doctors at more than 35,000 educational events and some believe it is polluting medical practice with commercial interests.
”The public expect that when they are seeing a healthcare professional, they are getting advice based on the best evidence available and not on whether their doctor has been flown business class to a golf resort to provide particular information about a product,” said Senator Di Natale who has previously worked as a medical practitioner.
He said the bill would be introduced to the Senate in February so a committee can be created to hear submissions on the matter.
However, chief executive of Medicines Australia Dr Brendan Shaw said the bill was ”jumping the gun” as his organisation was working on greater transparency measures as part of the industry’s code of conduct due to be renewed in two years.
Last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asked the group to improve transparency of payments and sponsorship made by companies to health professionals. A working party has been set up to do this.
President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Steve Hambleton said he wanted to examine the Greens’ proposal before commenting, but said ”engaging with pharmaceutical companies was an important form of education” for doctors who rarely experienced lavish hospitality.
However, several scandals have caused a worldwide push for greater transparency in recent years. Last year, a US government committee found medical device company Medtronic was heavily involved in shaping the content of medical journal articles written by doctors who were paid about $210 million over 15 years in fees, royalties and other payments. Critics say this influenced information being given to doctors about its product. Medtronic has disputed this.
In Australia, a former drug company representative last year spoke out about doctors receiving thousands of dollars in speakers’ fees and first class travel to attend conferences. On Tuesday, Fairfax Media reported a Geelong doctor had ”blown the whistle” on Pfizer flying one of his colleagues and his family business class to a conference in New York. The whistleblower believed this was influencing prescribing at Geelong Hospital and putting patients at risk.
However, the hospital’s medical director, Professor Tom Callaly, rejected this as a ”smear campaign” and said an investigation had found no evidence of unsafe prescription of drugs.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.