The Health Council issues advisory reports independently. This means that the advisory reports shine the spotlight on the state of science, undistorted by the interests of people or organisations. Transparency concerning potential interests is thus an important prerequisite.
Openness and weighing interests
Possible interests are an ever-present reality. Scientists often compile their knowledge thanks to research money from universities, research funding and other sources. In order to issue the best possible advisory reports, the Health Council uses top experts. These experts also regularly provide their specific expertise to other institutions, such as patient organisations, government bodies or businesses. The fact that someone has different roles and contacts is not necessarily a problem. As a general requirement, a committee member may not have a direct personal or financial interest in a particular advisory report. The Health Council ensures transparency with respect to any potential interests. There is always a conscious weighing of whether a conflict of interests may arise and whether any interests within a committee are sufficiently offset.
Procedure for appointing members to the Health Council, consultative group or committee
All experts who contribute to the work of the Health Council fill in a declaration of interests. This declaration is part of the Code for the prevention of improper influence due to conflicts of interests, which was introduced in early 2012. This code has been established on the initiative of, among other things, the Health Council amongst, and endorsed by more than thirty organisations (more information can be found in our news message of 31 January, 2012). The policy that the Health Council already handled regarding openness in interests, and prevention of improper influence, is with the use of the code further tightened.
An expert who becomes member of the Council or a (standing) committee fills in a comprehensive declaration and also provides information about research funds that he or she has received and any personal financial interests. Based on this, the Board of the Health Council decides whether the individual can participate. During the next meeting or, when it concerns a committee, the installation meeting, all declarations are discussed so that the members are informed of one another’s positions and possible interests.
Experts may be appointed as advisor in stead of member, if there seems to be a possibility of a conflict of interests. The declarations of interest are periodically updated, are publically available and are posted on the website. Those of members of standing committees and semi-permanent committees can be found at the relevant one under chapter Standing Committees & committees. Shortly the declarations of the members of ad-hoc committees will also be posted. Those will then be found at the relevant advisory reports.
At the moment the Health Council finds itself in a transitional phase from ‘old’ (on paper) to new (digital) declarations of interest. Therefore, there are still copies of these old declarations traceable on the website. They will be replaced by the digital ones in due course.
Contributing as an advisor or observer
Sometimes, there are only a few experts with a particular expertise. If their input is vital to an advisory report but they have possible interests preventing them from becoming committee members, it is possible for them to act as advisors. In addition it may be that an expert participates on behalf of an organisation, as ZonMw. That person is automatically appointed Advisor. An advisor makes a one-time contribution or attends some of the deliberations, but cannot vote and does not bear joint responsibility for the content of the advisory report.
It is also possible for the committee to organize a hearing in order to become acquainted with the expertise and experience of companies or social organisations which have an interest in the matter. The committee can then consider this input in the advisory process.
As a rule, an official observer is assigned to a committee. This individual provides the governmental information that is necessary for an effective advisory process but does not have a say in what goes into the advisory report.
Declarations of interests
To ensure an independent consultancy, the Health Council contributed to the Code to prevent improper influence as a result of conflicts of interest. Component thereof is a declaration of interests, as from page 11, in which experts who participate in scientific advisory committees give insight into their interests. This involves financial interests, personal relationships, ‘reputation management’, contract research and public-private partnership. Publication of the declarations on the website makes the interests transparent for everyone.