PHE’s Partnerships with Gambling and Alcohol Industry-Funded Charities: Time to Put the Cards on the Table
While discussing the ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’ paper by the UK government, Nason Maani Hessari, says disease prevention cannot solely be the role of the health system, but instead requires engagement from all of government with a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach. Public Health England (PHE) has “operational autonomy” from government, so that it can provide “…government, local government, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public with evidence-based professional, scientific expertise and support.”
Researchers are increasingly getting concerned regarding the independence and transparency with PHE’s partnerships with alcohol and other addiction industry-funded charities such as GambleAware and DrinkAware.
In health and healthcare, the need to address conflicts of interest is well documented, and while many challenges remain, structures have evolved in an attempt to manage them.
If the healthcare sector adheres to transparent processes and requires a firm evidence base for “downstream” interventions (once people are ill) such as medicines and new technologies, then surely an organisation such as PHE should adhere to them even more closely for “upstream” interventions that focus on prevention. These have the potential for much greater impact, especially when they involve the gambling and alcohol industries, who have a much clearer conflict of interest, and therefore partnership is associated with greater risks.
The fact that PHE has decided to partner with industry-funded bodies suggests that if indeed such processes exist, they aren’t transparent, and they aren’t effective,” states Nason Maani Hessari, author of the blog post by the BMJ opinion.
Evidence against campaigns by alcohol industry-funded charities
Discussing the lack of evidence about any effectiveness of alcohol and addiction industry-linked campaigns, the author states such initiatives increase positive perceptions of the sponsors of the message or the behaviours in question. These campaigns focus on individual responsibility and ignore the broader determinants of health.
This is why it benefits harmful product manufacturers to fund such initiatives, just as it benefits them to oppose evidence-based policy that might impact on sales. Indeed, forming partnerships with government agencies via corporate social responsibility initiatives can help enable greater soft influence in public agencies,” writes Nason Maani Hessari, in BMJ opinion.
The author states just as Carl Sagan said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” extraordinary partnerships require extraordinary transparency.