How does bias affect practising consultants?

In this video Robby interviews Dr Giles Elrington who is a Consultant Neurologist. The interview was filmed by Millar

Video transcript

Robby: I went to ECTRIMS last year – it’s a meeting for people involved with MS care – and I was shocked at how many delegates were there. It was 9,000 global delegates.

Dr Giles Elrington, Consultant Neurologist: It’s a bunfight, entirely sponsored by the industry.

Robby: No, right. But obviously they’re doing it not just for MS, they’re doing it for any neurological thing…

Dr Giles Elrington: Well, it’s taken off in MS, but it comes and goes. So, for example, if you – my big area is the headache and MS – and you look and say, headache, and everyone thought it was boring until the early nineties when Glaxo invented a drug for headache, and suddenly, we’re all being flown business class to conferences. And then when the market went out of the triptan drugs because they went generic and there’s no money to be made, suddenly we’re not going to conferences. Then along comes a new drug and we’re going to conferences again, but no longer business class because that’s been changed. And if we go back, it must be about 12 or 13 years, I and a lot of other neurologists were flown, again, business class, by a pharma company to Hawaii. Oh, that was where the American Academy of Neurology was, and we went and…

Robby: It just so happens.

Dr Giles Elrington: It just so happens, that’s right. And is it right? I don’t think it is actually. Yes, I’ve been there, I’ve drunk at that well, but I don’t think it’s right.

Robby: Morally?

Dr Giles Elrington: I think it’s very difficult for me to come back to my practice and not prescribe the drugs manufactured by the sponsor when they’ve given me a good time and taken me to a great dinner and I’ve had a lay flat seat back from LA on the aeroplane. And I don’t do that any more.

Robby: Because…?

Dr Giles Elrington: Because of bias.

Robby: Right, okay. But as I say, if you don’t sell your soul, then nothing’s going to be done.

Dr Giles Elrington: I wish I’d never sold my soul. I have a colleague elsewhere in London who’s never had so much as a Post-it note or a biro from the pharma industry and that gives him huge power in that you ask his opinion and there’s no bias.

Robby: Right. I mean how many consultants are there like that?

Dr Giles Elrington: Very few. But you don’t realise till it’s too late that being in bed with the pharma industry brings a bias.

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