Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Hypocrisy Of Pharma-Funded Health Charities

While the Indy were taking the tobacco control shilling, The Times today printed an article of level-headed scepticism towards health charities*.
Who could criticise a charity? Surely they are a necessary good. They shine lights into dark corners, make sure that the oppressed have a voice, and generate and direct funds for people who are in need of help.

Some do, but there are others - specifically many healthcare charities - that seem to have quite a different aim. Far from doing quiet works, they try to seize the media, lobby government and place themselves firmly centre stage.
Remind you of any in particular? Yes, I'm sure you're already counting on both hands.

The author is a Glasgow GP who has written a book** after being agitated by the interference of industry into the area of health. The description at Amazon explains more.
In the world of sexed-up medicine pharmaceutical companies gloss over research they don't like and charities often use dubious science and dodgy PR to 'raise awareness' of their disease, leaving a legacy of misinformation in their wake.
Those bells are ringing off their housings, aren't they?

Her article at the Times continues.
A decade ago, I would routinely seek out healthcare charities that could be useful for people who had a disease diagnosed or who needed support. They could put people in touch with fellow sufferers and offer practical insights that I often couldn't. Now, I'm often reticent to do so. The problem is that as the media, driven by charities, races to catch our short attention spans, the information people get from many health charities becomes alarmist and misleading.
Tell us about it!
Pharmaceutical companies have made a friend of many healthcare charities, donating grants, collaborating on information leaflets, or sponsoring projects or conferences.
Yep, and that just scratches the surface. It goes right to the top of the tree, too.

The most damning passage, though, is this.
The truth is, many charities take large sums from pharma — 3.4 per cent of Asthma UK’s income is from pharmaceuticals, which in the past five years totalled £1.5million from ten companies. Beating Bowel Cancer takes 11 per cent of its income from pharma; Breakthrough Breast Cancer — patron, the Prince of Wales — lists eight companies that made donations over the past financial year.

This is especially important when it comes to decisions made by NICE — the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence — about new, expensive drugs. The reaction of most charities to having NICE reject a treatment is of dismay; for example, when Avastin, a bowel-cancer drug, was turned down for funding, the chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer said that this was a “great blow to patients”. When an asthma drug for children was rejected by NICE, Asthma UK said that children were being denied “a pioneering treatment that could free them from crippling daily symptoms”. It’s far rarer to have a charity that criticises the cost of the prescriptions. NICE makes judgments based on cost-effectiveness. So if a drug isn’t good value at the rejected price, logically, the pharmaceutical company should make it cheaper. Yet many healthcare charities take aim at NICE, not the costs of the drugs.

At times it seems as though the pharmaceutical companies and charities are working hand in hand. In 2010 a letter appeared in The Times appearing to be from a variety of healthcare charities and doctors, protesting against plans to enable pharmacists to substitute branded prescriptions for cheaper, generic ones. It transpired that a pharmaceutical company had been responsible for co-ordinating and organising the letter — but it didn’t appear on the signatory list. The pharmaceutical regulator later recognised that this was unacceptable — but months after the letter was published; supporters of the charities may have been completely unaware.
All extremely grubby, I think you'll agree.

It's interesting to note that this revelation is made on the very same day that Cancer Research UK were accusing opponents of plain packaging of having their strings pulled from the sidelines.

This being the same Cancer Research UK which enjoys "multimillion pound" patronage from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, manufacturers of smoking cessation products.

D'ya reckon Steve Connor will be writing about that industry-funded conflict of interest anytime soon? Nah, nor do I.

* Behind the paywall, or page 6 & 7 of the 'body and soul' section in print.

** The Patient Paradox. Why Sexed-up Medicine is Bad for your Health by
Margaret McCartney is published by Pinter and Martin, £9.99 (or cheaper here and here).


Mudplugger said...

Yesterday Mrs Mudplugger and I signed new Wills.   The major amendment from our previous Wills was to eliminate some potentially large (i.e six figure) bequests to Cancer Research UK.

This is called hitting the devious bastards where it hurts.   It may be some time, and they may never realise what they lost, but I shall certainly die a happier man knowing that none of my hard-won wealth will now go into their disreputable coffers.

Perhaps fellow bloggers should review their own previous bequests to so-called charities while they still have time.

CyZane said...

American Cancer Society:
  The World's Wealthiest "Nonprofit" Institutionhttp://www.preventcancer.com/losing/acs/wealthiest_links.htm#drug   Iro 

Mark Wadsworth said...

Industry lobbying groups are the new fakecharities. That's what marks the difference between the Tory and the Labour government.

Lyn Ladds said...

At last a member of the medical profession who has the balls to speak out and tell as it is - Well Done.  Have just downloaded the book to my Kindle.

Whilst reading a taster on Amazon, I was delighted to see that she highlighted the plight of those who suffer depression and the like and just how difficult it is to get ANY relevant treatment/therapy (although she didn't say it, I would add unless you can afford to pay for it - usually at upwards of £75 per session).

It would be wonderful if we could see a few more in the medical profession come out in support of this book, or produce other works that would show just how ficticious much of the 'research' into health related issues is!

Michael J. McFadden said...

Considering the recent criticisms of "Think Tank" personnel and writers (including such folks as Jacob Sullum and our own Chris Snowdon) who've taken money for their writings from organizations that get UNDER THREE PERCENT* of their support from Big Tobacco, I found the following of particular note and worthy or bringing up in the face of any such claims:

" 3.4 per cent of Asthma UK’s income is from pharmaceuticals, which in the past five years totalled £1.5million from ten companies. Beating Bowel Cancer takes 11 per cent of its income from pharma; "

Using antismoking standards, no researchers or medical folks who've ever taken any funding from such "dirty" charities should ever be listened to.


*I'm not sure about the 3% standard for Reason, but I know it applied to the recent article Chris Snowdon wrote when he received criticism in a publicly broadcast debate with Arnott or one of the other chief Antis. I do remember though that Sullum was thoroughly castigated for once accepting $5,000 from PM or RJR for the reprint rights to something he'd written.  Hmmmm....  I wonder how much money Elsevier and the medical journals have taken from Big Tobacco and its hirelings for subscriptions and access rights?

Michael J. McFadden said...

Ahh!  Here's what I was looking for!  This piece by DaveA!



Dr Evil said...

 They have a go at NICE because it is an an easy target. They don't have a go at their patrons. What they should be doing is brokering a deal with Big pharma and NICE on a patient access scheme where the pharma company can reduce the price and save face. Also to be honest, these charities probably don't know exactly how NICE works. they base their decisions on QALYs and a health economic model. Many drugs currently giving NICE a nad press are end of life drugs that cost a huge amount for 3 or 4 extra month at best for the patient. They will still be very ill. I think many readers of red tops think these drugs give instant good health for 3 months then the patients just die. the NHS has a finite drugs budget. I've worked with NICE on drug submissions and always found them helpful and in gneral pretty fair.

Dr Evil said...

Excuse typos. Only see them after the post button is hit!

Belinda Cunnison said...