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A row has broken out in the United Kingdom where a health system foundation has named a Pfizer official to its nonexecutive board, raising complaints about a potentially harmful conflict of interest.

The King’s College Hospital, which is one of the many so-called Foundation Trusts in the UK’s National Health System, earlier this month added Erik Nordkamp as a nonexecutive director. Nordkamp is the managing director of Pfizer in the UK, which means he oversees the drug maker’s operations there.

As a foundation trust, the KCH provides local health care services in certain regions and also runs one of the London’s largest teaching hospitals. Moreover, the KCH Foundation Trust is independently run and is not governed by the National Health Service.

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For this reason, patient advocacy groups are openly criticizing the appointment. They say the move will give Pfizer potentially unfair influence over treatment decisions at a time when the pharmaceutical industry is already charging too much for many of its medicines.

“It is not appropriate for the head of Pfizer UK to be appointed as a nonexec director at one of the country’s most prestigious trusts,” said Jacky Davis of Keep our NHS Public, an advocacy group, in a statement.

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“Clearly, his presence on the board is likely to influence its attitude to the relationship between the private sector and the NHS, and increase the influence of the pharmaceutical industry within the trust and the broader NHS,” she added.

The relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and health care providers have long been a source of controversy over worries that drug makers may exert undue influence on medical practice and research.

In the United States, for instance, the federal government recently launched a database of payments made by companies to providers. The UK does not maintain such a database, but the flap over the Pfizer executive underscores ongoing concern over the issue.

OurNHS, another advocacy group, noted that Pfizer and other drug makers have been pushing the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the cost-effectiveness watchdog, to loosen its rules for determining product value and recommending NHS coverage.

The advocacy group worries this will allow more expensive drugs to be prescribed. “Simply put, Pfizer and other drug companies want people in the UK to spend more money on their medicines, and the NHS, as it is currently structured, is a barrier to that happening,” the group wrote on its web site.

We asked KCH for comment and will update you with any reply.

Meanwhile, the advocacy group said that KCH responded to the criticism with a statement that said there was a “competitive” process for filling the position, and that all nonexecutive directors must declare any interests pertaining to KCH business and may be asked to abstain from discussions.