[Featured on Mad in America, 23 January 2015]
In Scotland petitions are a direct way for people to raise national issues with their Parliament, a request for action. Dr Peter J Gordon, consultant psychiatrist, first lodged a petition on the Scottish Parliament website, PE01493: A Sunshine Act for Scotland, 29 September 2013:
“Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce a Sunshine Act for Scotland, creating a searchable record of all payments (including payments in kind) to NHS Scotland healthcare workers from Industry and Commerce.“
Peter J Gordon is a man of many parts: a qualified doctor and landscape architect, husband and father, a family man whose interests include philosophy, sociology, ethics, evidence-based medicine, neuroscience, horticulture, sculpture, poetry, local history, photography and film-making. He writes on Hole Ousia (whole being) and has 269 films, at the latest count, on Omphalos.
On 12 November 2013 the Public Petitions Committee at parliament took evidence from Dr Gordon in respect of his Sunshine Act for Scotland petition. (See video, 25 minutes in) Here is part of my comment on the video, now disabled but on my Google+ profile:
“The points about the marketing potential of education versus scientific objectivity demonstrate the need for regulation of drug industry payments, or in kind rewards, made to or received by health care professionals. To hear the figure of £40million gifted by drug companies to UK health workers and about £4million of that going to Scottish workers is quite astonishing.”
Herald Scotland article 13 November 2013 ‘Doctor calls for drug payments register‘.
In addition to petitioning Scottish Parliament, Dr Gordon has been diligently raising Freedom of Information requests in respect of Registers of Interests in every Scottish health board area. Scottish Government brought out a directive, NHS Circular HDL (2003) 62, instructing health boards to set up Registers of Interest so that staff could declare payments from pharmaceutical companies. For the sake of transparency. The health boards have not been complying with this government call to action.
Herald Scotland article 17 May 2014: ‘Urgent review as nearly half of health boards ignore pharma disclosure rule‘, and quote “The Health Secretary has asked officials to urgently investigate why some NHS boards have not put in place registers as covered by the 2003 circular. Alex Neil believes the guidance is clear that this action should have been taken, and we are looking for clarification on why some boards have not acted.“
On 18 May 2014 the Herald Scotland Editor gave his support for the Sunshine Act petition and greater transparency, saying “Simply hoping that NHS Boards enforce existing guidance is a strategy that has failed for more than ten years. A new law would be a better way of focusing minds on this important matter.”
Nearly a year to the day after Dr Gordon gave his evidence, on 11 November 2014, his Sunshine Act petition was considered by the Public Petitions Committee at its meeting in the Robert Burns Room of Scottish Parliament.
I was there to hear the proceedings, punctuated by a Remembrance Day commemoration in the Garden Lobby of parliament at 11am, and then at around 12 noon the topic came up. It took two minutes mention of contacting Scottish Government to ask about the NHS Circular HDL (2003) 62 (Registers of Interest) progress. My thoughts? Swingball. Pass the buck. See blog post I wrote following the meeting.
On Monday this week a notification arrived to say that Dr Peter Gordon’s petition will be considered, again, by the Public Petitions Committee on 27 January 2015 in the Robert Burns Room of Scottish Parliament. Meeting starts at 10am and the agenda item containing the Sunshine Act should start at around 11.15am, subject to change. I have booked a ticket and plan to observe the proceedings from the Public Gallery. Live broadcasts can be viewed at this link. Videos after the event here plus links to business papers and reports.
I am hoping this time around in the Rabbie Burns room for more than 2 minutes worth of talk and no direct action. A Sunshine Act for Scotland makes sense economically and ethically. Doctors in their drug prescribing should be free from conflicts of interests. The pharmaceutical industry is primarily a money making concern. Patients deserve to know that their medical treatment is for them and not for profit.
“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”
Robert Burns, The Rights of Woman, 1792
(thanks to Liam for highlighting this poem from the Bard)