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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19616

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Emerson D
More free trips for WA health staff
The West Australian 2011 Aug 22

Full text:

Doctors have continued to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel and accommodation from pharmaceutical companies, despite the practice being referred to the Auditor-General in May as questionable.

Fresh Health Department records tabled in State Parliament showed that since April 1, department employees had accepted 82 gifts, flights and hotel stays worth more than $350,000.

The Health Consumers Council and the Opposition said yesterday the Government should have suspended “sponsored travel” until approved by Auditor-General Colin Murphy, whose report is due next month.

Included in the jet setting was a $20,000 trip to London and Gothenburg in Sweden and a $16,000 trip to Lisbon in Portugal, paid for by medical conglomerates Abbott and GlaxoSmithKline.

Both companies supply pharmaceuticals to the department.

The fresh records also cast doubt on Health Minister Kim Hames’ claim that those accepting the trips were doctors learning new clinical techniques, not the bureaucrats who influenced the purchase of pharmaceuticals and equipment.

Among the recipients were chief pharmacists from two WA hospitals, two heads of department and three directors. All up, department staff have had more than $2 million worth of gifts, flights and accommodation since December 2009.

In that time, nine of the medical companies which funded the trips have reaped about $60 million in Health Department contracts.

Health Consumers Council executive director Michele Kosky said it was “ultimate arrogance” to continue accepting the freebies while Mr Murphy investigated.

“These are mostly medical practitioners who take it as their God-given right to be funded by pharmaceutical companies to go to conferences and stay in swanky hotels and then try to convince the public it doesn’t influence their prescribing,” she said. “It’s disgraceful.”

Labor frontbencher Mark McGowan said: “If it was serious enough for its probity to be investigated, surely the Government should have put a stop to it, at least while the Auditor-General investigates.”

Health Department acting director general David Russell-Weisz said he was confident externally funded travel was subject to sufficient checks before approval.

“The vast majority of people taking trips are clinicians travelling to specialist clinical conferences or meetings related to testing or trialling new products or techniques,” he said.

“Many are also addressing the conferences.”


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