BMA votes that non-publication of trials results is research misconduct

26th June 2013

The British Medical Association has voted to make non-publication of trial results to now be considered research misconduct, and that doctors involved in withholding results should be referred to the General Medical Council. This vote was on a motion tabled at the Annual Representative Meeting. The motions passed at these meetings go on to form the ‘backbone of BMA policy’ and this agreement is a huge step towards clinical trial transparency.

The motion agreed in full:

“That this meeting states that:

i)     Selective non-publication of unflattering trial data is research misconduct;

ii)    Registered medical practitioners who give grounds to believe they have been involved in such conduct should have their fitness to practice assessed by the GMC.”

Ben Goldacre, co-founder of AllTrials said: “This is hugely important, because patients are exposed to avoidable harm when trial results are withheld. It’s easy to be preoccupied with the very proximate causes of inferior care: doctors who have inadequate knowledge, or ability, for example. But in medicine, our treatment decisions are based on evidence. If that evidence is distorted, by trial results being withheld from doctors and researchers, then we cannot make informed decisions about which treatment is best. Medicine has grown up fast over the past few decades, towards being a truly evidence based profession, and this BMA vote is an inevitable part of that.”

You can read more about the vote in this BMA blog.

The best currently available evidence estimates that around half of all the trials conducted and completed, for the medicines we use today, haven’t been published. This is a stain on medicine’s reputation, we’ve known about it since at least 1986, and we have to fix it. In the past, there was an odd cultural blindspot around withheld results: people didn’t intuitively regard this issue as research misconduct. But there is now a clear message. The AllTrials campaign now has the support of the majority of medical and academic bodies in the UK, over 150 patient groups, and many more in Europe and the US. The UK government must act, and put pressure on European and international bodies, to fix this problem for good.