Video: Campaigner Dr Ben Goldacre calls for GP support on trial transparency

The lack of transparency over clinical trial data harms patient care as much as medical incompetence, Dr Ben Goldacre has warned.

The epidemiologist and author of Bad Pharma urged GPs to support evidence-based medicine by demanding clinical trials were registered and results published in full, and he called on the college to ‘take a stand’ on the issue.

In an energetic speech at the RCGP conference yesterday, Dr Goldacre, who campaigns for clinical trial transparency, gave several examples where full trial results for commonly prescribed drugs had been withheld.

He said current systems to register trials and publish full results were not working.

The ‘abstract statistics’ behind evidence-based medicine were ‘not about lines on a graph, they’re not about numbers on a page, they’re about real world avoidable suffering and death’, he said.

‘We, as people who understand evidence-based medicine, who understand epidemiology, I think need to raise our game. We need to recognise that, where there are these things that lead to people making wrong treatments, we need to fix them.

‘Upstream, where people withhold the results of clinical trials from the medical and academic community, that is research misconduct because it has a negative impact on patient care, as sure as if you were an incompetent physician, there and then in front of your patient.’

Dr Goldacre said despite recent pledges to open up trial data, such as the European Medicines Agency’s promise to allow access to trial data from 2014, the problem had not been fixed, and ‘it needs to be fixed’.

In July this year, the BMA passed a motion that withholding the results of clinical trials is research misconduct. Dr Goldacre called on the college to join this position. ‘I think the RCGP should take a really robust stance on this, stand up and say: withholding clinical trial results is research misconduct, and it’s not tolerable for our members.’

Dr Goldacre added: ‘We can’t practice evidence-based medicine in an environment in which half the trials have been withheld from doctors and patients and academics.’

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