The organisation representing pharmaceutical companies in Ireland has defended the practice of its members making millions of euro in payments to healthcare professionals and organisations.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Association said that the payments (known as 'transfer of value') related to research and development; contributions to costs related to attending events; donations and grants and fees for services and consultancy.

€27m was paid in 2015, according to figures compiled by member companies and published on the IPHA's website. Of this, €6.8m related to fees paid to healthcare professionals.

The transfer of value data is part of a voluntary initiative by European pharmaceutical companies whereby pharmaceutical companies publish payments made to doctors.

Payments by Pharmaceutical Companies

However, 45% of doctors and other healthcare professionals who received payments did not consent to have their names published.

While some payments amounted to hundreds of euro, the figures show some healthcare professionals received as much as €12,000 in 2015.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, IPHA Chief Executive Oliver O'Connor said that such payments could reflect a high level of activity by the health professionals in question in training others.

He also said, in the absence of government funding for professional development, that healthcare professionals appreciated that the educational opportunities funded by pharmaceutical companies such as attendance at international conferences relevant to their area of specialism.

"If pharmaceutical companies are not doing this and nothing takes its place then doctors will find less opportunities and will have less opportunities for education," he said.

He said the category of payment, described as "fees" related to professionals acting as consultants to or serving on the advisory boards of pharmaceutical companies.

Mr O'Connor said there were no grounds for suspicion that payments in any way influenced the prescription practices of healthcare professionals.

"I don't believe, and I don't think any reasonable member of the public believes, that doctors or nurses or dentists are compromised in their care for their patients by amounts of money of that order," he said.

"I don't believe that doctors are influenced in their prescribing choices by these transfers of wouldn't be ethical for a doctor to do that," added Mr O'Connor.

Detail of payments to organisations can be found here.