U.K.’s General Medical Council Invested Millions in Fast Food

A BMJ investigative report found that the GMC invested funds in companies including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Nestle — sparking criticism from doctors in the United Kingdom.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is a public organization whose mission is to "help to protect patients and improve medical education and practice in the U.K. by setting standards for students and doctors."

All physicians practicing medicine in the U.K. must register with the organization and pay a discounted fee upon first registration and an annual fee of £420 each year afterward — equivalent to about $512 in the United States

Recently, on March 15, an investigative report funded by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Investigations Unit found that the GMC invested in drug companies, fast food chains, private medical insurers, and private healthcare providers — inciting debate and outrage among U.K. physicians.

These investments came to light after the BMJ filed a freedom of information request which showed the GMC had nearly £870,000 or $1.05 million invested in companies including Coca-Cola, Nestle, Starbucks, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Unilever — maker of ice cream brands Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, and more.

In addition, the GMC invested more than £470,000 (about $570,000) in Humana Health and UnitedHealth Group, two private health insurance firms. Moreover, the organization invested £1.2m (about $1.4 million) in drug companies AstraZeneca, Merck, Novo Nordisk, and Roche.

The GMC also put £1.3m (about $1.5 million) into companies that manufacture medical devices. These include Edwards Lifesciences, Intuitive Surgical (makers of Da Vinci), and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

According to the BMJ report, the GMC invests its funds through churches, charities, and Local Authorities Investment Management (CCLA) and has decision-making power regarding investments.

Yet, because of the associations between soft drinks, fast food, and obesity, and the GMC failing to publish the investments on its website, U.K. doctors are criticizing the organization’s accountability.

In the report, Sam Everington, a general practitioner (GP) in Tower Hamlets, east London, and chair of the Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, told the BMJ:

"The GMC is funded by doctors in the U.K. They would be horrified to know that their money is being invested in fast food companies that are the cause of so much disease and reduced quality and quantity of life and significantly more pressure on the NHS and workload of doctors. This is no different to investing in tobacco companies."

"Practicing U.K. doctors have no choice but to pay substantial annual fees to the GMC. The organization must show that it is using its funds wisely, and I’m not convinced it is. It is unclear to me why the GMC holds so much money and why it has chosen to invest as it has," says Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow, and a researcher at the University of St Andrews, in the BMJ report.

"When the chief executive is paid over a quarter of a million per year, and a further six staff on more than £200 000, doctors should know, with complete transparency, where their fees are being invested and why," McCartney adds.

However, a GMC spokesperson told the BMJ that as a charity, it urges companies to commit themselves to produce healthier products that are more accessible and affordable. The organization also applies ethical restrictions to the types of companies it invests in and excludes firms when questions arise about their corporation tax approach.

As a result of the BMJ’s investigation, the GMC’s council is considering whether their current exclusions are still relevant. The organization is also considering publishing its investment portfolio on its website.

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