Friday, 3 January 2014

Bad Pharma, data manipulation & procurement inquiries

Richard Bacon MP, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, gave a very good interview on the Today programme this morning. I have listened to Bacon during various PAC procurement related inquiries and have always been impressed - to me he grasps key procurement issues very quickly and provides excellent scrutiny and probing. 

Although he did make reference to the NHS being a monopoly buyer, his interview wasn't about procurement but the publication of clinical research, or more specifically, the problems of drug companies withholding information which doesn't suit their vested commercial interests. I discussed some of these issues in my review of Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma

However, he made a number of comments which are particularly relevant to procurement, for example, stating that "The whole point of scientific research is that you take all the data ..." because cherry-picking and just using research which suits your vested interests distorts the truth and leads to false impressions. 

I would like PAC to reflect on that when they consider procurement evidence too.
It strikes me that Select Committees sometimes are not as robust in their search of evidence as they could be - see for example my comments on the recent CLG Committee Procurement Inquiry - Committees could be more proactive in seeking out evidence as opposed to 'inviting' evidence. They could be more proactive in seeking out opposing views as opposed to those of the 'loudest voice'. They could also make use of academic research, which, as Bacon argues, "The whole point of scientific research is that you take all the data".

But hold on a second, isn't that part of the problem with many procurement decisions - it certainly appears to some on the outside that procurement is selective in the data it chooses to base decisions on. Could it be true that some procurement decisions are based on not reporting 'the bad news'. Those responsible for approving procurement decisions need to be assured that they are considering all the data.

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