Researchers slam medical journal

Prof Robin Gauld
Prof Robin Gauld
University of Otago researchers have told BMJ (formerly called the British Medical Journal) to be more transparent after it highlighted a glowing report about the Canterbury District Health Board without disclosing who paid for it.

Last week it was revealed the Canterbury board paid the King's Fund in the United Kingdom $186,000 to write an article that appeared to be an independent analysis of Canterbury health services. An editorial about the report was published in BMJ, which last week published a letter expressing concern co-written by Centre for Health Systems director Prof Robin Gauld, of Dunedin.

The report, which was released last year, detailed the ''impressive progress'' of the Canterbury board since the earthquakes, and praised the region's integration of primary and secondary health services.

''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 [Canterbury board's] involvement.

''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,'' Prof Gauld said in a press released issued by the university yesterday.

The group of academics, who include researchers in Dunedin and Christchurch, have said the King's Fund report did not acknowledge less positive facets of Canterbury healthcare, including the level of ''unmet need'' for health services.

A prepared statement from the Canterbury health board's chief executive, David Meates, defended the spending, while pointing out the board had no role in the BMJ editorial.

''Investing $180,000 (0.01% of our budget) in the King's Fund review and report was an important step to help us determine whether we were heading in the right direction with our significant transformation of the health system.

''Their researcher spent time talking to clinicians from throughout the Canterbury health system - this included people working in general practice teams as well as in our hospitals.''

The board had asked for a ''warts and all'' report, but its purpose was not to determine the level of unmet health need in the community, Mr Meates said.

Southern District Health Board communications director Steve Addison said when contacted the southern board had commissioned no similar report on its own progress.

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