On New Year’s Eve I took my family up ‘The Shard,’ London’s newest and tallest landmark. As we looked Eastwards a squall was readying itself over the North Downs; the latest in a succession of storms to batter our shores over the past few weeks. Low-flying clouds threatened to swallow us whole. The wind roared around the open viewing platform.
In the run up to New Year’s Day, some of our media and politicians concocted a storm of sorts about the opening up of our borders to Romanians and Bulgarians. For a so-called tolerant country we certainly know how to serve up vindictiveness and prejudice on a repulsive scale don’t we?
Fact is we probably have more to fear from the Chief Executives of Swiss-based pharmaceutical companies. For they seem all too ready to serve up damaging judgements on the UK’s health system. Earlier in 2013 I had cause to write about those chocolate teapot moralists from Novartis . They had felt it necessary to call an emergency meeting in London to admonish us about how the state of clinical research here (I hope they got my Xmas card with its personal message about the UK achieving ‘first global patient into trial’ in 23 commercial studies during 2013).
Then, over the holidays, the CEO of Roche Severin Schwan decided to fall back on tales told to him by a few mates who have lived in other countries as evidence for telling The Times (paywall) that the UK doesn’t value life. Perhaps they were just happier because they could buy it? I’m afraid the rest of the interview – and a broader contextual piece about pharma in The Economist in which Schwan also features – just goes to prove that Mr Schwan and his colleagues know ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’ as my mother would put it.
Last year, the pharmaceutical industry was buffeted by the successful #AllTrials campaign calling for all clinical trial results to be published and to be made available. The focus and intent of the campaign was strongly endorsed by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. Industry execs probably thought they were through the worst of it with the deal hatched in Brussels just before Christmas over the new EU Clinical Trials Regulation.
How wrong they were. Today’s report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee just shows it was the eye of the storm. There will be no let-up in this drive for greater openness and transparency until practices change for the good and for good. And we are a long way from it happening just yet.
With a £12 billion profit to hand surely even Mr Schwan and his top execs can afford to see that there is an ethical and moral bottom line in play here?
A Very Happy New Year by the way.