A news item from a small corner of the world (the Irish Times) caught my attention. “Doctors told not to accept trips from drug firms’ is the headline.

“DOCTORS MAY no longer accept direct invitations from the pharmaceutical industry for trips to international medical meetings, funded by drug companies, following the clarification by the Medical Council of its ethics guidelines…” said the article. 

“While accepting that payment of travel and accommodation expenses for doctors to attend meetings, either as participants or speakers, supports the aim of continuing professional development, the updated guideline says ‘these payments should go through unrestricted education and development funds made available by the sponsoring company to the institution which is hosting the meeting or the conference organiser’.” 

“Unrestricted education and development funds are not linked to or controlled by the organisations that contribute to them and healthcare institutions can choose to spend the funds any way they see fit,” the clarification says [my emphasis].

What a pile of malarkey!

Healthcare institutions theoretically can choose to spend the funds any way they see fit THE FIRST TIME AROUND. It’s virtually a sure bet that if they choose NOT to pay speakers for travel, they

  1. won’t have any speakers and/or 
  2. won’t get funded again by the pharmaceutical sponsor.

This is what makes ethics so ineffective in the real world. If the goal — as expressed by the “Council” — is to ensure that doctors’ “professional judgment is not affected by the hospitality” of pharma companies, then pharma-sponsored CME should be banned outright. Otherwise, stop putting lipstick on this pig!