Pulse today reveals that nearly three quarters of patient organisations that contribute to NICE decisions have taken funding from manufacturers of a relevant product.
Researchers looked at the financial interests of patient groups who contributed to NICE decisions and found 72% took funding from manufacturers of a relevant product in the same year or year before they contributed to a NICE appraisal.
The research team called on NICE to ‘review its disclosure policy’, after it found the body was ‘aware of less than a quarter’ of the potential conflicts.
The study, published in the BMJ, looked at 41 NICE technology appraisals – which provide recommendations on the use of new and existing medicines and treatments within the NHS – published in 2015 and 2016.
They included 53 patient organisations, with 117 separate occasions in which a patient organisation contributed to the appraisal of a technology.
The researchers said: ‘38/53 (72%) patient organisations had accepted funding from the manufacturer(s) of a technology or a competitor product in the same year that they had contributed to the appraisal of that technology or the previous year.
‘Specific interests were present on 92/117 (79%) occasions that patient organisations contributed to appraisals in 2015 and 2016.’
‘NICE’s decision-making committees were aware of less than a quarter of specific interests (30/144; 21%). For nearly two thirds of the specific interests not known to committees (71/114; 62%), disclosure by patient organisations was not required by NICE’s policy,’ they added.
The authors concluded that ‘financial interests are highly prevalent among patient organisations contributing to NICE decisions’, and called for ‘NICE to review its disclosure policy to ensure that decision making committees are aware of all relevant interests’.
Hull GP and BMA GP Committee clinical and prescribing policy group member Dr Zoe Norris said: ‘The authors of this paper sum up exactly why NICE need to review its policies. I would expect most doctors and patients will be shocked to discover the degree of funding that is being received, over the same time period that recommendations are then being made.'
She continued: ‘The profession remains sceptical about NICE recommendations, whilst being told we must justify our rationale if we deviate from them.
‘I would expect NICE to be crystal clear over external influence to try and improve the acceptability of its recommendations. It is ethically the right thing to do.’
This comes after GPs were told they will be asked which clinical guidelines they followed, when undergoing investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) due to patient complaints.
NICE told Pulse it had already decided to review its disclosure policy, prior to the research being published, but said it would consider the findings as part of this review.
NICE deputy chief executive and health and social care director Gill Leng said: ‘We aim to maintain a high standard of integrity in the way we conduct our work.
‘Ensuring that organisations and individuals declare potential conflicts of interests, in accordance with our policies is central to how we develop guidance and is essential in maintaining public and professional confidence in our work. This study is an important contribution in making sure that we achieve this aim.’
Last year, a Pulse investigation revealed how pharmaceutical companies work with and fund charities, which campaign on and contribute to NICE decisions.