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Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE

Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE

HSE chief Tony O'Brien. Photo: Tom Burke

HSE chief Tony O'Brien. Photo: Tom Burke

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Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE

DRUG companies are paying the wages of two senior doctors in a public hospital, the Sunday Independent has learned.

At least four drugs companies are funding the post of registrar in the rheumatology department at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. They are also paying for "hours" worked by a consultant physician in general medicine there.

The disclosure has "raised concerns" in the HSE.

Tony O'Brien, the director general of the HSE, has sought a report from the acute hospital's division on the "unusual" funding arrangement.

A HSE spokesman admitted the funding arrangement "raised concerns".

He told the Sunday Independent: "Certainly the two posts, and the nature of those posts, were unknown to the director general of the HSE.

"Based on the information that has come back by way of responses to your queries, it has raised a number of concerns for him. He has asked the acute hospitals division to provide a report on those posts, the nature of which on the face of it seems unusual."

Pharmaceutical companies regularly fund medical research, education and training and clinical services. When asked for its policy on doctors in public hospitals being financed by commercial drugs companies rather than the public health service, the HSE said this would form part of the report sought from the acute hospitals division.

Connolly Hospital said the funding for the registrar post and the consultant physician's hours were provided as part of a pilot "service project" in its rheumatology department.

The pilot project was to "justify" the rationale that the posts were of benefit to rheumatology patients and the medical roster.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, Connolly Hospital confirmed: "A rheumatology registrar post and consultant physician in general medicine hours are externally funded. The external company has confirmed that the external funding comes from a number of pharmaceutical companies including Abbvie, MSD, Pfizer and Roche.

"They have provided unrestricted grants that facilitate both clinical services and clinical service research.

"During the pilot, the benefits of the rheumatology registrar post were realised and the registrar post will be funded by Connolly Hospital from February 2015."

The statement added: "The benefits of the rheumatology consultant post are being investigated in relation to the benefits being realised and approval for funding of the consultant post is under consideration."

The hospital said that research and educational hours for nursing and clerical staff in the area of diabetes, respiratory and rheumatology are also "funded externally".

The medical and pharma sectors are closely aligned in developing medicines. However the relationship between the two sectors has come under scrutiny in recent years.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations has introduced new disclosure rules from this year to make the relationship more transparent.

The rules have been adopted by its Irish affiliate, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association.

All payments made to doctors by drug companies must be recorded from January this year and must be publicly disclosed from 2016.

Drug companies must also publish donations, grants, fees and other funding for conferences and speaking fees made to doctors.

Drugs firms were banned from giving out pens, notebooks, and other gifts to medical professionals last year.

The Irish Medical Council also publishes guidelines for doctors on their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.

These guidelines state that doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to conduct medical research "must address any potential conflict of interest" and "make appropriate disclosure".

They also say drug company funds - for education, research, employment grants, donation or sponsorship of equipment - "must be paid directly to an institution rather than to an individual healthcare professional".

The guidelines also say doctors who receive financial support from pharmaceutical firms in connection with professional activities - including the development of clinical services - should tell patients and any other relevant party about any potential professional relationship with the companies.

Sunday Independent