NHS England is launching a major consultation on proposals to strengthen the management of conflicts of interest, clamp down on inappropriate behaviour and ensure that the NHS is one of the leading healthcare organisations in the world in tackling these issues.
The six-week consultation is an opportunity for all interested parties to make their voices heard about these proposals which cover gifts, hospitality, employment, sponsorship and other interests.
In March this year, NHS England set up a group to look into developing a stronger approach to managing conflicts of interest, both real and perceived. Drawing on expertise from a wide range of organisations, the group is led by Sir Malcolm Grant, Chair of NHS England and includes representatives from the British Medical Journal, NICE, the Care Quality Commission, the Local Government Association and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
The group has investigated best practice in health, other sectors and internationally and is now proposing measures to strengthen conflict of interest identification and management. These proposals include:
- setting out what is and is not acceptable in relation to individual types of interest such as the need to seek prior approval from the employing NHS organisation for any outside employment
- the processes by which interests should be identified and conflicts of interest managed appropriately, for example ensuring all senior staff complete an annual declaration of interest
- information which NHS organisations must publish in relation to the interests of their staff
- ensuring that staff and others understand what constitutes both interests and conflicts of interest as well as the circumstances in which they can occur
- the processes which organisations should have in place to ensure they appropriately manage any breaches of conflicts of interest policy.
Following the consultation, NHS bodies will work together to finalise the guidance and ensure effective implementation of the plans.
Sir Malcolm Grant said: “The public expect the highest standards of behaviour in the NHS, but we know there are times when the NHS has failed to meet this expectation.
“We have a responsibility to use the £110bn healthcare budget provided by the taxpayer to the best effect possible for patients, with integrity, and free from undue influence. Spending decisions in healthcare should never be influenced by thoughts of private gain.
“We want to hear from as wide a range of people and organisations as possible so they can help us bring greater transparency, and clearer guidelines for staff in a way that will benefit taxpayers, patients and the health service.”
Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “Clear guidance for NHS staff on managing any potential conflicts of interest is long overdue. The NHS is a complex organisation in which conflicts of interest may arise, and they must be handled with openness, transparency and consistency to ensure all staff work in the best interests of patients.
“For surgeons, our own guidance – Good Surgical Practice – is explicit that surgeons must demonstrate probity in all aspects of their professional practice, which includes declaring any commercial involvement, or work outside of the NHS. Patients rightly have a huge amount of trust in the medical profession and this guidance will help doctors to think about any potential conflicts of interest and help them to act appropriately at all times.”