Pharmaceutical companies are causing biased information to be given to doctors about the efficacy of drugs, causing an epidemic of misinformed practitioners that is “costing hundreds of thousands of lives” across the world, it has been claimed.
Speaking to The Independent, Dr Aseem Malhotra, an NHS cardiologist and a trustee of the King’s Fund health think tank, claims there is “a systemic lack of transparency in the information being given to doctors to prescribe medication, in terms of the benefits of drugs being grossly exaggerated and their side effects under reported in studies”.
Dr Malhotra said the prevalence of pharmaceutical companies, which are “profit making businesses” being able to fund studies and drug trials causes biased information to be recorded and reported on in medical journals. This is in turn “creating an epidemic of misinformed doctors,” he said, stressing that the heart of the issue is “corporate interest trumping patient interest”.
It is this lack of transparency that harms patients through the adverse side effects of drugs, Dr Malhotra said, citing an FDA report that found adverse events from prescribed medications caused 123,000 deaths in the USA in 2014 and 800,000 serious patient outcomes, which include hospitalisation or potentially causing disability.
The FDA report also states that the number of adverse events from prescribed medications have tripled in the past 10 years in America, he said.
Dr Malhotra said that while the UK does not have the same kind of data, Peter Gotze, professor of research design at the University of Copenhagen, has evidence to suggest that prescribed drugs are the third biggest killer behind heart disease and cancer, with particular concern placed on the effects of psychotropic drugs used to treat dementia, among others illnesses.
In the UK, the elderly are at particular risk of adverse drug reactions, Dr Malhotra said. Side effects of prescription drugs on the over 75s, particularly if they are on more than one set of medications, can make them dizzy and fall over which can cause a hip fracture and develop into further problems.
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The number of over 75s being admitted to hospital due to adverse drug reactions is one in three, and a quarter of these patients will die as a result of these injuries, he claimed.
Dr Malhotra is one of a number of senior physicians, including the Queen’s former doctor Sir Richard Thompson, calling for the Public Accounts Committee to launch an independent enquiry into the efficacy and safety of medicines.
“Institutions such as universities, medical journals and doctors collude wittingly or unwittingly with the medical industry for financial gain,” Dr Malhotra said.
“We need a cultural shift towards de-prescribing – and full access to the raw data from clinical trials for independent scrutiny, as this will encourage pharma sponsored research to be conducted at a higher ethical level,” he said, adding that until then “I personally regard all industry sponsored studies as marketing until proven otherwise”.
A spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical industry said: “All medicines undergo rigorous testing for quality, safety and efficacy by global regulators, including the MHRA in the UK.
“The data is also subject to continuous scrutiny during trials, once licensed and throughout the life of the medicine, even after a patent has expired.
The spokesperson added that the “suggestion that prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease is misleading and is certainly not a statistic recognised by either the World Health Organisation nor the Office for National Statistics in the UK”.
Last year the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges launched a campaign to stop doctors from ‘over-treating’ patients amid growing evidence patients are being over-diagnosed and treated for a number of conditions, such as prostate cancer, high blood pressure and asthma.
NHS England declined to comment.