Monday 20 November 2017

Drug companies funded senior posts at hospital

Revelation sparked review of policy on public health funding amid fears of 'conflict of interest'

Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE
Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A DUBLIN hospital that used drugs company funds to finance two senior medical posts has prompted a review of policy in the health service, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Connolly Hospital used the drugs company money - paid through a charitable company - to fund a registrar in rheumatology and a locum consultant to work full time in the public hospital.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) is now reviewing how drug company money and other external funds are being used in the public health service

Meanwhile, Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown has since stopped using drug company funds to pay for the rheumatology registrar and is also "regularising" the consultant post, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The hospital drew on the drugs company funds to pay for the registrar's post for more than seven years, the documents reveal, while it started using drugs company funds to finance a full-time locum consultant physician last year.

The documents show that the HSE's senior management was unaware of what it called the "unusual" funding arrangement until the Sunday Independent submitted questions about it in January. In an email to the acute hospitals division, HSE Director General Tony O'Brien demanded to know whether there was a "conflict of interest" in the drug company funding of medical posts, whether the arrangement was "transparent" and whether it breached pay rules.

In its reply to the HSE, Connolly Hospital said there was no conflict of interest, that it was transparent and that it did not breach pay rules. It said "multiple companies" were involved in funding the post of locum consultant, and it pointed out that the funds were provided through a charitable company.

However, the hospital had earlier confirmed to the Sunday Independent that drugs giants, Abbvie, MSD, Pfizer and Roche, were among the companies that contributed the funds.

The HSE said the "registrar post has been regularised and is no longer funded externally." Meanwhile, "regularising the consultant post" in line with HSE rules had been agreed with the hospital.

"Separately there is a requirement to re-state the rule set in relation to the use of charitable funds and philanthropy for public health services. We also need to review the rules in relation to clinical trials and ensure that there is clarity about the use of such external funds for posts," said the statement from the HSE's acute hospital division.

Connolly Hospital said the two posts of rheumatology registrar and consultant physician hours were funded externally as part of a proposal to "increase available rheumatology expertise" at the hospital.

In the document, the hospital denied a conflict of interest, as "multiple drug companies" were involved in funding the rheumatology research project; and the locum consultant funded by drugs companies worked in general medicine and was not involved in the research project. It said "approval" for consultant hours was taken by a clinical director and a hospital manager. It further stated that the external provider of the funding was a "registered company" with "audited accounts and charitable status".

The HSE this weekend said it was informed by Connolly Hospital that there was no personal or professional financial association between the locum consultant and the drug companies funding the post, or between those who approved the post and the drug companies.

"Since the 1970s, public hospitals have hired staff using research funding and there are now 100 research registrars working in the public health system," said the HSE. "The registrar position at Connolly is not a research post, and is not regulated."

Sunday Independent

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