An Account of the International Symposium: Transparency in Healthcare in Bath, UK
Tetsuya Tanimoto, M.D.
Researcher, Medical Governance Research Institute, Tokyo, Japan
This manuscript expounds upon the knowledge and perspectives acquired during the International Symposium on "Transparency in Healthcare," which transpired on March 7, 2023, in the historic city of Bath, United Kingdom. Bath, with its approximate population of 90,000, is situated an hour west of London via express train. Famed for its ancient Roman thermal baths and as a haven for the aristocracy, Bath has also been a temporary abode for literary luminaries such as Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. The city sustains a high cultural standard, featuring abundant bookshops and theaters, which may be ascribed, in part, to the influence of the prestigious University of Bath.
Though the symposium was relatively compact in size, it was graced by the presence of several distinguished individuals, who made a lasting impact. This account will introduce three eminent scholars encountered during the event. The first is Theodoros Papadopoulos, a Greek immigrant and a long-standing faculty member at the University of Bath for over 26 years. As the Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy, Papadopoulos' research focuses on public policy, particularly within Europe. His expertise in Ordoliberalism—an economic policy aimed at cultivating competitive markets and curbing monopolies—is noteworthy. Moreover, his sociological perspective engenders interest in managing conflicts of interest within the pharmaceutical industry.
Papadopoulos' ebullient personality and predilection for political discourse are characteristic of his Greek heritage. He shared insights on the Greek Novartis scandal, a large-scale corruption case involving pharmaceutical price manipulation, which unfolded in 2018 and is regarded as one of Greece's most significant scandals implicating high-ranking government officials. A sizeable compensation lawsuit against the company has subsequently ensued. In contrast, Papadopoulos was uninformed about the unprecedented Novartis scandal in Japan, which implicated high-ranking universities and major medical journals, including the Lancet. This revelation sparked an enlightening discussion on the global challenges posed by the pharmaceutical company.
Another noteworthy figure was Tom Fahey, a Dublin-based General Practitioner (GP) and Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. Despite his remarkable academic accomplishments and editorial board memberships, such as in the British Medical Journal, Fahey exudes humility and grace. His scholarly contributions encompass a broad range of topics within general internal medicine, with a particular emphasis on medicines management and drug safety. This interest may have prompted him and his colleagues to investigate conflicts of interest in the pharmaceuticals and medical devices industry. Fahey's collaborative research proposals with his group may yield future joint publications in peer-reviewed medical journals with our group. He also proposed an exchange program between Japan and Ireland, potentially creating opportunities for young medical professionals in both nations in the future.
Lastly, Margaret McCartney, a GP hailing from Glasgow, was met during the symposium. A frequent contributor to the British Medical Journal, McCartney is also devoted to disseminating medical information to the public. She actively contributes to the Guardian, a prestigious liberal newspaper in the UK, and is a broadcaster on BBC Radio 4, which offers educational and culturally pertinent content.
McCartney has authored three highly regarded popular science books, available on Amazon internationally. Serendipitously, I had previously purchased one of her books in Kindle format several years ago (although I had not yet read it). McCartney's decade-long concern about conflicts of interest in healthcare has prompted her advocacy for proactive disclosure to patients, which in turn led to her participation in the symposium.
Theodoros Papadopoulos, Tom Fahey, and Margaret McCartney all demonstrated immense warmth towards the Japanese attendees, fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie. Despite my limited English proficiency, I was able to discern a distinct European culture that differed from that of the United States, exhibiting a more unobtrusive nature. In the past, I have primarily attended medical meetings in the United States, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology, which are heavily influenced by pharmaceutical sponsorship. Engaging with a diverse group of European intellectuals at a smaller symposium like this one proved to be an unexpectedly enriching experience.
Thus, the symposium afforded us an invaluable opportunity to forge connections with prominent academics and gain fresh perspectives on global healthcare issues. The conversations with Theodoros Papadopoulos, Tom Fahey, and Margaret McCartney elucidated the complexities of conflicts of interest within the pharmaceutical industry and the importance of transparency in healthcare. Moreover, the symposium facilitated the exchange of ideas and fostered potential collaborations between Japanese and European professionals, opening doors for future partnerships.
In conclusion, the International Symposium in Bath not only offered an insightful exploration of the ethical challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry but also presented an opportunity to establish meaningful connections and collaborations with esteemed academics from various European backgrounds. It is essential to continue fostering such international dialogues and partnerships to tackle global healthcare challenges and promote ethical practices in the pharmaceutical industry.
Originally published in Japanese in Iyakukeizai (Pharmaceuticals and Economics), April 1, 2023