A call to arms: Why pharmacists should call for Open Data

Pharmacists of the world, unite and take over.

Pharmacy has been hit hard over the past few weeks. We've had MPs accusing us of being smartie counters, and a badly written BBC News expose implying that we are all merrily dealing benzo's to make a quick buck. (I may attempt another blog post on this at some point)

I believe that historically, pharmacy has drawn the short straw. In my opinion. our professional body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, seems to lag behind other bodies when it comes to media savviness, and it often feels like we have very little impact or voice when it comes to the healthcare profession as a whole. Even now, its still a rare occastion that a pharmacy-related story will actually have a pharmacist commenting on it in the news- GPs, doctors and nurses are simply much more vocal and recognisable to an audience. 

But here is an opportunity, and it has been handed to us on a silver platter by Ben Goldacre and the BMJ. I'm sure you may have heard by now, but there is a pretty large campaign on the go to allow for more transparent reporting of clinical trial data. This has been prompted by the case of Roche's Tamiflu, but its wider implications on patient safety and care are huge.

All the information you need about the BMJ's Open Data campaign can be found here.  

Today I tweeted Ben Goldacre to ask what involvement there has been from the pharmacy bodies. The answer? A big fat zero. There has been no involvement at all, from any of them.

So here is my call to arms. If you are a pharmacist, or if you are affiliated with the pharmacy profession, lets contact the RPS, the GPhC, NPA, PSNC, and anyone else who will listen. Lets tell them how important this is to us and how we want them to represent us and get our voice heard.

After all, to be experts in medicine, we need to have access to information about medicine. And that information has to be accurate, reliable, accessible, and unbiased. Without open data, we simply cannot do our jobs properly or with the degree of safety that we would like to. It may seem like a trial not being published is far removed from handing over a prescription to a patient over the counter, but the fact of the matter is that patients are dying due to the lack of transparency. How can we counsel a patient on side effects, for example, when patient level data from trials has been withheld? How can a patient be prescribed the best medicine for their condition when most of the trials involving the drug haven't been published? 

Moreover, what a great way to represent ourselves as a profession who, more than anything, care about the health- and safety- of our patients, and who are willing to speak up when it counts. What a fantastic opportunity for our professional bodies to prove what they can do. 

H xxx