DOCTORS should register gifts and payments they receive from drugs companies similar to the way politicians log their expenses, according to a group of health professionals.

Fifteen doctors, researchers and campaigners have claimed in a letter to the British Medical Journal that it would allow patients to check if their doctor is benefiting from the pharmaceutical industry as it may affect the treatments they prescribe.

The signatories have launched a voluntary register www.whopays where doctors can declare their interests. But they stress the current system of self declaration "is variable, opaque, and unreliable" and insist "there is a need for change".

Campaigner and Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney said: "We know that in medicine there are a few doctors who receive an awful lot of money from pharmaceutical companies and sometimes PR companies, but that is not obvious to the people they are giving advice to, whether that is their patients or the media. We think the General Medical Council should make it much easier to declare interests."

She said she hoped doctors would sign up to the voluntary register , adding: "Most doctors do not have a conflict of interest but a few do and we do not know who they are."

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has estimated that the drug industry pays £40 million a year to doctors for speaking fees, flights, hotels, and other travel expenses.

In the letter, the campaigners wrote: "It is clear that exposure to pharmaceutical advertising adversely affects future prescribing. There is also evidence that if doctors accept gifts from the drug industry, patients trust doctors less. Citizens can access MPs' central register of their financial conflicts of interest, yet patients cannot find out whether their doctor has a financial conflict of interest."

General Medical Council (GMC)guidance states doctors "must be honest" about commercial dealings and declare conflicts of interest, but the campaigners argue there is not system for them to use to do this.

They add: "Given the evidence, patients should be able to know when drug companies are influencing and paying their doctors."

The petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament is currently considering a call to create a searchable record of all payments to NHS Scotland healthcare workers from industry and commerce.

In their submission to the committee, the British Medical Association in Scotland made it clear that they supported transparency in principle.

A British Medical Association spokesman (BMA) said: "GMC guidance makes it clear that doctors have a responsibility to ensure that their conduct at all times justifies patients' trust in them and in the medical profession. Financial conflicts of interest, real or perceived, can lead to a breakdown in public trust.

"The BMA supports the principle that financial transactions between commercial organisations and named healthcare professionals should be transparent; meaningful trans-parency can only be achieved if these transactions are publicly declared."

The letter's signatories include Peter Gordon consultant psychiatrist for NHS Forth Valley, Sian Gordon a GP and GP appraiser in Falkirk and Professor Allyson Pollock, a researcher who was based at Edinburgh University before she moved to Queen Mary University of London.

Dr McCartney said the group came together because of their shared interest in the issue after writing similar articles on the subject, or meeting online via forums such as Twitter.