UK Health Secretary Announces Mandatory "Sunshine Rule" After Investigation Into Industry Relationships With NHS Employees
Yesterday, British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that all National Health Service hospitals and General Practitioner groups will be required to keep a list of every gift and payment from pharmaceutical companies to health service staff. Under the new “Sunshine Rule,” NHS personnel who receive such benefits from drug companies will have to declare them or face dismissal and potentially jail time.
The British Health Secretary’s decision was spurred by a recent Telegraph investigation which found evidence of senior NHS directors soliciting thousands of pounds for consulting work, and other officials speaking about company-sponsored advisory board meetings held in luxurious hotels. Read our article highlighting the undercover investigation here.
In response to the Telegraph article, Hunt released the following statements (DailyMail):
Disturbing evidence has come to my attention that small numbers of NHS staff have tried to influence NHS purchasing decisions in return for payment, gifts or hospitality from pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers.
This is a complete abuse of their position and will be shocking to the vast majority of staff who want the best for patients.
Part of the problem is just how many sales reps are targeting our hospitals, with 65 reps on site at any one time according to a recent report. The NHS is indirectly paying for every one of those reps, through staff time and the amount paid for drugs and products.
As with so many issues in the NHS, the answer is greater transparency. These tough new rules will for the first time expose improper relationships between staff and pharmaceutical companies. Only those serving their own self-interest should have anything to fear, with patients and taxpayers set to benefit.
It is unclear at this time whether the penalties would be under the already existing UK Bribery Act or new legislation specifically aimed at disclosure requirements.
Hunt's announcement comes during the first year of reporting under the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) Disclosure Code. While the EFPIA Disclosure Code is a self-regulatory, rather than legislative, measure, it requires requires all 40 EFPIA member companies and all members of the 33 EFPIA associations to disclose transfers of value to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and healthcare organisations (HCOs).
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) responded to Secretary Hunt's announcement, saying it welcomes the "Sunshine rule" as a positive addition to the industry’s current disclosure initiative. While the ABPI Code “already has strict requirements on the interaction between sales representatives and healthcare professionals”, the Association said it would “welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and NHS England as plans for the ‘Sunshine Rule’ develop."
The ABPI also touted its stringent self-regulatory measures:
We have led the way with the disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals in the UK since 2012 when we began publishing aggregate payments made by industry to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Our latest initiative will see the publication of payments and transfers of value made by industry to individual healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations during 2015 made public in June 2016 on a single, searchable database hosted by the ABPI.
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.
For more information on ABPI's disclosure measures click here. We will continue to follow any "Sunshine Act" type legislative developments in the UK. View their recent press release entitled "ABPI welcomes Jeremy Hunt’s ‘Sunshine Rule’ as a positive addition to industry’s disclosure initiative."
See the Telegraph article on the Hunt's latest announcement here.