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Big money to influence healthcare - secrets

Written by Navjoyt Ladher, clinical editor, The BMJ .

The hidden interests of lobbyists also come under scrutiny in the British Medical Journal (23 May 2014), with calls for media organisations to be more transparent about the potential conflicts of interest of interviewees.

The perception that lobbyists and think tanks represent an independent point of view is false, argues Meg Carter, and she highlights the BBC’s recent coverage of the debate over plain packaging of tobacco products as an example. A member of the right wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs was invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Today news programme to argue the case against brand free packaging. The arguments presented were similar to those of the tobacco company Phillip Morris, one of several big tobacco funders of the institute—links that the BBC failed to clarify during the debate.


Lobbyists are active in many areas of healthcare where businesses have a vested interest. Not only tobacco but salt, sugar, climate change, health service delivery, and alcohol are all areas that are subject to attempts to influence legislation and policy.

In the United States the spend on healthcare lobbying in 2012 was just under $0.5bn. (Vicki's note: the biggest lobbyist by far in US healthcare is that of doctors - the American Association. Makes you think doesnt it?)

It’s a big business, and key players will often be invited to offer comment and opinion in the media. Where there are commercial and competing interests it is vital that media organisations make these clear so that audiences can make an informed judgment on the issues being discussed. As Tamasin Cave, director of Spinwatch, explains in Carter’s feature, "Lobbyists and the interests they represent have a right to be heard. But all of us—including the media—must engage in a more mature discussion of lobbyists’ role. End the secrecy and everyone will benefit."

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