NHS organisations are entering into working partnerships with drug companies, but they are not making the details, and even existence, of many of these deals available to the public, an investigation by the BMJ has found.
The BMJ, working with a team of university researchers, sent freedom of information requests to all 194 acute care NHS trusts in England to find out how many were involved in joint working arrangements in 2016 and 2017 and what joint working policies trusts had in place.
The investigation revealed that companies spent £3 million in 2016 and £4.7 million in 2017 on joint working arrangements. However, a fifth of trusts would not release details of such deals, despite official guidance that joint working agreements must be conducted in an “open and transparent” manner.
The partnerships were used to support a variety of initiatives, including several projects to review the pharmacological management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and more than 20 projects focused on age-related macular degeneration.
The BMJ found that many of the 93 projects running in 2016 and 2017 specifically referred to increasing the use of products marketed by the company funding the project.
Trusts are expected to record and monitor all funding agreements related to the joint working projects, yet 13 (7%) of trusts told the BMJ that they did not keep a central record of any such arrangements and so could not provide the information.
Even when trusts did provide details, the information they provided was “often inaccurate or contradicted by other sources”, the BMJ states. Others claimed not to know about joint working arrangements at all.
Under the NHS Long Term Plan, collaboration between health services and industry is set to treble over the next decade.