Pharmaceutical companies give groups of MPs and peers campaigning on health issues hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in “hidden” funding that could give them “undue influence,” the research found.
The pharmaceutical industry has built a “hidden network of political influence” over dozens of multi-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) in Westminster by paying them hundreds of “non-transparent” payments, as part of a larger effort by the government. industry to put pressure on those in power, say the researchers.
The findings raise questions about the independence of APPGs, the voluntary multi-stakeholder special interest groups of members of both Houses of Parliament who seek to influence ministers and ministries through reports, inquiries and meetings in Westminster .
Fifty-eight APPGs focused on different aspects of health received 468 payments totaling just under £ 2.2million in direct and indirect funding from pharmaceutical companies between 2012 and 2018, University of Bath academics found. . APPGs do not receive money from parliament to support their activities, which often involve ministers being interviewed and receiving reports.
“In the context of health-related APPGs, pharmaceutical industry payments represent institutional conflicts of interest because they create circumstances where the primary interest, policy making in the interest of public health, risk of being unduly influenced by secondary interest, the objective of the pharmaceutical industry to maximize profits, ”conclude the authors, in an article published Thursday evening in the medical journal PLOS One.
According to Emily Rickard and Dr Piotr Ozieranski, of Bath, pharmaceutical companies can use their close relationship with APPGs to help with their investigations, advocate for policies that advance their business interests and be reflected in reports, all of it. without the public being aware of these links. Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University.
They uncovered the long history of funding by examining the parliamentary registry of APPGs and the payment disclosure reports of pharmaceutical companies. Both sources contain information on the funding of APPGs by large pharmaceutical companies, as well as their funding of health charities, which often serve as the secretariat for APPGs. But the details given were often vague, incomplete and difficult to understand, the authors said.
Their research found:
16 health-related APPGs received 168 payments from 35 pharmaceutical companies worth £ 1.2million in 2012-18 – one sixth of their total funding
Two APPGs, on health and cancer, accepted over £ 600,000 during this period
50 health-focused APPGs received almost £ 1million in additional 304 payments from patient organizations or health charities, which themselves receive sums of money from large pharmaceutical companies
“We are not attacking any APPGs or alleging irregularities. However, there is a dilemma. APPGs are a key part of policy making and it is clear that corporate money is entering the bloodstream of people. APPG, ”Rickard and Ozieranski told The Guardian.
“Something needs to be done to mitigate the potential influence that normal citizens or NGOs will not be able to exert.
The revelations have led to calls for more openness about where the APPG’s funding comes from.
“APPGs have an important role to play in holding government to account and shaping policy by bringing together voices from all political backgrounds and a range of stakeholders,” said Dr John Chisholm, Chairman of the British Medical Association medical ethics committee.
“However, it is vitally important that there is full transparency about who is behind these groups and what is driving their calls for change. This is particularly important for the development of health policy, which must be based on the principle of improving the health of the population, and not risk being influenced by other conflicting interests.
Justin Madders, a shadow minister of health, said: “It is extremely worrying that the big pharmaceutical companies and other special interests are using the coverage of these groups, which were created with the best intentions, to circumvent the normal rules. probity and transparency.
“Clearer rules on funding and conflicts of interest are needed to ensure that significant health issues are not used as a vehicle to push private interests. “
But Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a Labor peer and treasurer of the all-party parliamentary group on health, countered that Parliament’s lack of funding for APPGs left them dependent on outside organizations.
“APPGs need a lot of support to function effectively. There is no funding available, so it is inevitable that outside organizations will be invited to fund, ”he said.
“In these circumstances, it is imperative for parliamentarians who serve as honorary officials to ensure that financial sponsors do not unduly influence the outcome of the APPG’s work.
“This is certainly the case with the APPG on health, where the sponsors are far from our decisions on the programs.”