A family doctor can easily earn an extra lb15,000 a year by enrolling their patients in a trial for a newly licensed drug. Unfortunately, the patient is not aware that he's participating in a trial or that his doctor is being paid by the drug company concerned.
A new study prepared by two ethics committees says that doctors should reveal to patients that they are being paid for prescribing the new drug. Doctors can earn thousands of pounds per patient recruited into a trial, and well-organised GPs easily earn lb15,000 a year for just three hours of work a week.
'Payments have reached levels that are of serious concern to research ethics committees,' said Jammi Rao, of the West Midlands Multicentre Research Ethics Committee. He said that some hospitals depend on money from the pharmaceuticals to help fund their work, while some GPs trawl their databases to find patients who fit the requirements to improve their recruitment rates.
Often, important trials designed by non-commercial organisations - and without the funding to pay doctors for recruiting participants fail to attract support from the medical profession.
The concept of paying the doctor per patient recruited goes against the guidelines of the Royal College of Physicians, who prefer to see doctors reimbursed for their time spent on a trial. Nonetheless, it remains the standard method of reimbursement (BMJ, 2002; 325: 36-7).
* Too many clinical trials into drugs are 'underpowered' - they recruit too few people to have any scientific validity. Despite criticisms in the past, the practice of preparing such underpowered research trials remains widespread - and is growing, says Scott Halpern of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (JAMA, 2002; 288: 358-62).