Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England have accepted hundreds of payments from drug companies that they have not disclosed according to a new investigation.
Publicly declared payments include tickets to top sports matches and a Beyoncé concert, and amounted to £1.28m, whereas the investigation found that CCGs accepted over £5m from private companies and charities in the last two financial years.
The findings of the BMJ investigaion also show that a large number of payments go to a handful of organisations, with nine CCGs accounting for half the number of payments received.
The BMJ received responses from all 207 CCGs in England after it made freedom of information requests about payments from private companies and charities.
The data were then compared with the details published by CCGs in their online public registries of declarations.
NHS England guidance requires CCGs to declare all conflicts of interest and to maintain and publish registers of their conflicts of interest and procurement decisions.
More than two thirds (73%) of the funding from drug companies was for sponsorship of education and training events. For example, NHS Warwickshire North CCG received 89 payments with a total value of £24,150 in 2015-16 and 2016-17 to sponsor educational events, but these are not listed in the CCG’s current online register.
CCGs have also sought funding from drug companies to support internal meetings.
After event sponsorship the largest proportion of funding from drug companies to CCGs is for projects, around 19% of the total funding, the results show. One such project was undertaken by NHS Southwark CCG, with £24,000 in funding provided by Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Pfizer. Information about the project’s funding was not published in the CCG’s registers.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry says that drug companies have an important role in supporting healthcare organisations and they ‘share an ambition with the NHS to see greater transparency and disclosure of information around industry support to healthcare organisations and professionals.’
Several CCGs say sponsorship arrangements with drug companies allow them to host more educational events than they otherwise could, but others accept no payments from charities or private companies. For example, NHS Hastings and Rother CCG said: ‘This helps to avoid any potential or real situations of undue bias or influence in the decision making of the membership of the CCG, governing bodies, or staff.’