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BMJ urged to widen its approach to transparency

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Wednesday, 4 June 2014 5:00pm

Prof Robin GauldProfessor Robin Gauld

A group of University of Otago health policy researchers, based in Dunedin and Christchurch, has called on the leading medical journal BMJ to be much more even handed in scrutinising the transparency of what it publishes.

Professor Robin Gauld, the Director of the Centre for Health Systems, has co-written a letter that has appeared in the BMJ on 31 May, expressing concern about a journal editorial reviewing a report into the performance of the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) prepared by the King's Fund in England.

The report, released in September 2013, talks about the 'impressive progress' of the CDHB since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, but Gauld says it turns out the board paid $186,000 for the King's Fund to produce the document.

"This funding was not revealed in the report and in its editorial the BMJ seems to have simply accepted the findings as independent, with no disclosure of the CDHB's involvement," he says.

"The BMJ has always been a champion of transparency when it comes to funding and other conflicts of interest. If we were submitting such a report we would have to declare funding sources and potential conflicts of interest - right down to saying which conferences we had attended and who paid for them.

"Those principles of transparency and independence have not been applied here."

In the letter to the BMJ Professor Gauld and his colleagues Antony Raymont, Phil Bagshaw, Gary Nicholls and Chris Frampton, say the King’s Fund may have reported some useful lessons for those interested in health system integration but, unfortunately, it did not acknowledge among other less positive indicators the level of unmet need for health care in Canterbury which is ongoing.

"Rather, as in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, notorious for selective reporting of clinical trials, we believe public perception has been manipulated. A transparency protocol for reports such as the King’s Fund’s and Editorials on them would, in future, reduce this possibility."

Professor Gauld says such a protocol could be developed and extended to other publications by way of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.

For further information, contact:

Professor Robin Gauld
Centre for Health Systems
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8632
Email robin.gauld@otago.ac.nz

NB - Professor Gauld is away from New Zealand until 11 June
Until then, please contact:

Associate Professor Phil Bagshaw
Tel 64 3 351 9754
Professor Gary Nicholls
Tel 64 3 364 1543

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