Publisher and stakeholder with misaligned conflict of interest policies

Case number: 

Case text (Anonymised)

We have recently developed and begun to put into practice a policy on collection and declaration of conflicts of interest statements from any individual involved in contributing to or reviewing our pathways. This policy includes members of our editorial team, and contributor and reviewer members from our stakeholder groups. We have devised a standard form to collect these statements in a uniform way, and publish the declarations of interest from all contributors (both inhouse and external), but collect and do not make public those of peer reviewers.

Stakeholder group A, who provides clinical contributors and peer reviewers for some of our pathways, has a pre-existing declaration of interest policy for any review committee member performing work on behalf of the group which does not align with our own. Stakeholder A’s review committees undertake a number of functions for the group themselves; review of our pathways is an additional role they have taken on over the past 18 months. They collect the statements on a voluntary basis annually (or as new committee members join) and it is their current policy not to share those declarations with any outside group. The stakeholder group has suggested that it would be willing to sign an annual declaration to confirm that their committee members do not have any conflicts of interest.

However, we have requested that if an allegation of conflict of interest is raised with us, we require a process to ensure that the group’s committee make the individual members’ names and declarations available to us. We await the stakeholder’s views on this proposal, but would welcome COPE’s views:

  • Is it sufficient to collect a statement from the group to say that they have reviewed all of the individual statements for the committee members and determined that there is no troubling statement?
  •  Is it reasonable to request a change in the stakeholder’s policy to ensure our access to the detail of the committee members’ individual statements in case of any allegation of conflict of interest?

The Forum questioned the logic of why you would obtain conflict of interest statements but not be able to see them? The rationale for competing interest statements is that they should be transparent. The advice was to obtain the names of the people and approach the individuals if possible. Also, the Forum reasoned that it is not sufficient to have annual statements—competing interest statements need to be up to date. Some suggested changing the wording and asking, for example, for any relevant interests (as opposed to conflicts) which might elicit more useful information.

Follow up: 

We have agreed an exception to our conflict of interest for stakeholder group A. We will collect, hold but will not display the conflict of interest statements for anyone peer reviewing our pathways for accreditation purposes. We have agreed with stakeholder group A that they will provide an annual statement of assurance which describes the issue, outlines what they do to collect declarations from members and agrees a process on what happens should we need to investigate any declarations.