Doctors risk ‘professional suicide’ with drug alerts

DOCTORS and academics risk “professional suicide” if they reveal the adverse side-effects of anti-depressants and other psychiatric medicines, a leading academic psychiatrist has claimed.

Irish-born professor of psychiatry at Cardiff University in Wales, Prof David Healy, also hit out at any of his colleagues who, he said, put the benefits of major pharmaceutical companies ahead of patients.

“Invitations to apply for better jobs, to attend conferences, or simply to go with colleagues to local eateries funded by drug companies are ever less likely to happen for doctors linked to adverse events,” argued the professor, who has repeatedly raised concerns over the issue in Britain.

“Offers to describe problems at professional meetings are turned down and journals are ever less likely to accept publications outlining a new problem,” he said.

Prof Healy was speaking before an address to the one-day seminar: Mad Medicine: Do Conflicts of Interest Drive You Crazy? organised by the European Public Health Alliance, which will be held at University College Cork today.

According to Prof Healy, pharmaceutical companies are legally obliged to agree that their drugs may cause people to die by suicide while senior medical academics are not.

“And here is where they offer one of the greatest services they can to companies — they can and regularly do offer apologies for industry. They have become industry’s way around the law and any moral code that may apply in this domain,” Prof Healy said.

In his view, doctors reluctant to prescribe certain drugs because of anticipated adverse side-effects were likely to be accused of being a persecutor who victimises the patient by withholding effective treatment.

“Speaking up about a problem — once the material of medical advance — is now a recipe for professional suicide. When a doctor does report an adverse event to regulators, the report is invariably parked as uncertain and unreliable information,” he alleged.

The close relationship between some pharmaceutical companies and a percentage of the medical profession has previously been highlighted in highly critical independent reports by the Oireachtas Health Committee and its Westminster equivalent.

The April 2007 Oireachtas report by the cross-party group raised specific concerns over how some pharmaceutical firms regularly influence doctors through “hospitality” services.

The Adverse Side-Effects of Pharmaceuticals report, based on a similar document drawn up by MPs in Britain in 2004, said pressing issues needed to be addressedimmediately.

However, despite the serious concerns, one of the authors of the report, then Fine Gael TD Dr Liam Twomey, told the Irish Examiner in September 2008 that the findings had effectively been “shelved”.

Other speakers at the seminar include Labour MEP Nessa Childers, Prof Agnes Higgins of Trinity College Dublin and John McCarthy of Mad Pride.

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