The BMJ's editor-in-chief wants action on pharma payments to leading doctor education groups in the UK

A month after The BMJ ran an investigation into payments from the life sciences industry and patient groups to the U.K.’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the journal’s editor-in-chief is calling for these transactions to be made more transparent.

That investigation, published by The BMJ in July, found that royal colleges responsible for doctors’ training got more than 9 million pounds sterling ($11.4 million) in payments from drug and medical device companies going back to 2015.

The BMJ found, however, that these payments were not always being publicly disclosed.

In an open letter, The BMJ’s editor-in-chief Kamran Abbasi wrote: “Transparency is the absolute minimum for managing conflicts of interest,” and “royal colleges shouldn’t rely on industry transparency initiatives which many people agree don’t go far enough.”

Royal colleges should “take the lead and disclose industry funding in a comprehensive and standardised manner,” he added. This is something the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the membership body for the medical royal colleges and faculties, could coordinate, he said.

Abbasi said there is clear “evidence [which] shows clinicians’ prescribing habits are influenced by industry marketing” and that informed discussion by their members and the public “about how such payments should be governed and under which conditions they should be received, if at all,” should now be had.

The BMJ's investigation required searching through industry databases to uncover certain payments from drug companies to royal colleges. However, a follow-up editorial noted that "these databases offer only a partial glimpse of the money accepted, why it was paid, and what it was used for."

In May, the Department of Health and Social Care for England announced a public consultation on mandatory disclosure of industry payments to the healthcare sector, similar to the Sunshine Act in the U.S.