Who guards the guardians? (Or as the Romans put it: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?’) It’s a good question, and it’s especially pertinent when it comes to the watchdogs of the medical establishment.
Take the case of a government inquiry team that was set up to look at the safety of the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants such as Seroxat and Prozac.
It’s been discovered that most of the members of the committee have shareholdings or other links to the drug companies that manufacture the SSRIs. Two members have shares in GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Seroxat, and they have to leave the room whenever the drug is discussed! Two committee members fronted the press conference when Seroxat was launched, so throwing into doubt the committee’s ability to be impartial.
They’ve been drawn from the Committee on Safety of Medicines, which is part of the impressive panoply that has, at its head, the Medicines Control Agency, arguably one of the most secret ‘public’ agencies in the UK. It also happens to be entirely funded by the drug companies (see Enews broadcast no. 25).
It’s a practice that extends north of the border. The Scottish Medicines Consortium, established just a year ago to help determine how NHS money should be spent, is under suspicion because over half the members have financial interests in the pharmaceutical industry. The consortium includes a medical director of Eli Lilly, a non-executive director of Schering Health Care, and a former Pfizer employee. Seven of the 44 members have shares in pharmaceuticals, and at least 11 have received consultancy fees from the drugs industry.
Who guards the guardians indeed. Happy Easter!