Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to require medical practitioners to declare any income or gift received from medical suppliers or pharmaceutical companies to the Medical Council in statutory declaration annually.

I will outline the broad principles behind this Bill. I hope we get to Committee Stage at some point in the future, although it looks like it might the distant future in light of the many Private Members’ Bills being tabled. However, we endeavour to try and bring forward legislation which we feel would have a meaningful impact.

The purpose of this Bill is to make it a legislative requirement that there would be a statutory declaration by consultants, clinicians and other medical practitioners in the context of donations or gifts made to them by pharmaceutical companies and other companies involved in the health care sector. The purpose of this is to bring transparency to the whole issue where, at times, people may receive a gift or some other service from a company which might be providing medicines, therapies or technologies to either the clinician or to broader health sector. This is a meaningful and purposeful Bill. I do not believe it would put an extraordinary burden on individuals to set up a statutory declaration of gifts worth over €600 which would have to be registered with the Medical Council.

In the years ahead, there will be significant advances in medical technologies, medicines, fourth-generation medicines and orphan drugs. In that context, it is important that there is a full transparency and openness in terms of who is funding who in health care. With this particular issue, it would be a requirement of clinicians and medical practitioners. In some hospitals and other HSE services, certain front-line practitioners are funded by health care companies. While we welcome the fact that they are providing the service, equally, and importantly, it must be open and transparent to ensure that there can be no perceived or actual conflicts of interest, particularly as we are talking about serious ethical issues and significant sums of public moneys in the health system.

While I am not ascribing any ethical misdemeanour to any individual clinician, who is overseeing those prescribing medicines in the context of trends relating to companies and medicines? If there was a register whereby all clinicians and medical practitioners would be obliged to make a statutory declaration once a year for gifts over €600, I believe it would bring transparency to the issue. The term “declarable incomings” relates to payment or a service from a medical equipment supplier, agents of a pharmaceutical company or others. A “gift” means a voluntary transfer of money grant for research, bursary service or property without compensation above a value of €600. There is a role in this legislation for the Minister to ensure the establishment of the statutory declaration with the Medical Council. In the event of a medical practitioner failing to declare, the sanction will be referral to the Medical Council.

The reason I tabled this Bill is because some eminent clinicians came to me and expressed concern that the issue of pharmaceutical companies interacting with clinicians, and supporting them in a meaningful way, is becoming more pervasive in Ireland and across the western world. In a previous life as a Minister of State with responsibility for trade, I always supported the collaboration of business companies, pharmaceutical companies, universities and the State. We must also ensure, however, that there are clean lines of demarcation and that there is no overlapping or greying of the ethical barriers critical to health care.

I know this Bill will have to be taken in Private Members’ time. To be honest, we need a lot of Private Members’ time to get through the number of Bills backing up in the system. If we could pick out a few from time to time and give new politics an opportunity to work in a non-partisan, bipartisan, tripartisan or whatever way, Bills such as this would be meaningful. It may annoy some people and make others uncomfortable. For the good of health care, openness and transparency and ensuring that medical practitioners have no suspicions about how they are funded, this Bill is critically important. I commend it to the House.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.