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Home > News&Media

Golden opportunities


Published in PharmaTimes magazine - July 2021

Collaborative working is a cornerstone of the government's White Paper for the NHS, but how can pharmaceutical companies best get in on the act? Wilmington Healthcare's Oli Hudson looks at six distinct ways in which industry can partner with NHS organisations to mutual advantage.

Could the slow retreat of the pandemic, combined with the NHS Reset and new ABPI rules, signal the start of a new era of NHS-industry partnership? Across the country, impressive and award-winning projects have begun to return strong outcomes, not only showcasing the best practice in collaboration, but also illustrating the variety of opportunities available for industry to make a lasting connection with NHS customers.

In this piece I want to look at six different types of partnership that are developing between pharma and the NHS, exploring the benefits that they offer for patients and services as well as the unique qualities that industry can bring to the table.

1. Reshaping the workforce

A first area of partnership is focused on supporting and strengthening the workforce to improve the care pathway for patients. One of the benefits of pharma collaboration for the NHS is the capacity to unlock investment in workforce changes that might otherwise be extremely difficult to implement. Joined with the knowledge that global pharmaceutical companies can bring via their experience of rolling out treatments in other health services, this can be a powerful catalyst for reshaping care pathways. An example of this is the work being done by Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in conjunction with Oxfordshire CCG to improve respiratory care services. The BI/Oxfordshire project aims to improve patient outcomes by improving the way services wrap around the needs of patients by creating a fully integrated, multidisciplinary team. It involves increasing consultant, nursing and physiotherapist resources within hospitals and integrating this with community-based staff, including specialist GPs, psychologists, pharmacists, smoke-free advisers and specialist palliative care support.

The aim is to offer more timely and better co-ordinated care closer to home, which should reduce system costs by avoiding unnecessary emergency attendances and hospital admissions, as well as leading to better outcomes for those on BI regimens.

2. Supporting clinical efficiency

A second type of partnership, illustrated by Eli Lilly's work with The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow, is focused on collaborations that drive clinical efficiency and improve patient experience.

The Glasgow team recognised that people with Soft Tissue Sarcoma (STS) faced long waits when receiving chemotherapy, with treatment consistently being given later than their planned appointment times.

To address this, Lilly analysed patient flow and sought to understand how patients experienced their journey during treatment. This analysis, supplemented by data provided by the associated Trust as well as patients' own feedback, helped to identify blockages and allowed a new process to be developed.

According to Stephanie Harvey, a project manager and quality improvement consultant at Lilly, the work highlights how the NHS and pharmaceutical industry "can share skills and resources to improve cancer services and enhance patient care".

Crucially, she adds that the core areas of expertise provided by Lilly – including process mapping and the development of data collection plans – provide a partnership model that "can be applied and used within any clinical pathway" to improve clinical efficiency and reduce pressures on the system. This is another 'sweet spot' for pharmaceutical companies seeking collaborative opportunities with the NHS.

3. Improving access to treatment

A third partnering opportunity centres on improving access to treatments, particularly by reaching out to patient groups who may be missing. It is an area that again plays to the pharmaceutical industry's data expertise as well as the resource and added value it can bring to public and patient communications.

Nowhere is this more important than in the treatment of HIV. Thirty years on, fear and stigma still affect diagnosis and take-up rates for antiviral medication – and late diagnosis is associated with a tenfold increase in mortality. Particular segments of the community, especially black heterosexual men, are disproportionately likely to be diagnosed late.

The work that Gilead has done with various NHS organisations to analyse the problem, raise awareness and break down barriers is a testament to the potential value of partnership arrangements in driving forward progress on reducing health inequalities and extending the availability and uptake of life-saving treatment to marginalised groups.

4. Enhancing patient support

Another area of potential partnership centres on the direct investment that the private sector can bring to patient education and support to ensure they receive the best possible care. For example, Novartis, working in partnership with Bionical Solutions, has developed a nurse-led programme for the NHS that provides holistic support to patients with plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and axial spondylarthritis in the community.

The programme, developed by Novartis using insights from patients and healthcare professionals on which services would most benefit patients and the NHS, can be tailored to the needs of each individual patient and the requirements of the clinical team managing their care.

Its goal is to ensure the NHS is able to work with patients to ensure adherence to treatment, as well encouraging better self-care and promoting a positive outlook on their condition – all of which can reduce the burden on services and enable patients to enjoy a better quality of life.

5. Delivering public information

Of course, as well as direct advice and support for patients, collaborative work between pharma and the NHS can also focus on vital public information campaigns that can create the best possible conditions for high uptake of pharmaceutical products.

A shining example is Pfizer's partnership with the NHS to support the roll-out of the COVID vaccine. Tackling misinformation, providing reassurance and making a positive case for why getting vaccinated is important have all been crucial in maintaining public confidence and ensuring high uptake of the jab across all age groups.

Bringing together the scientific expertise of pharma with the credibility of NHS voices is often a compelling combination for any public-facing campaign. It can help both parties to achieve their mutual goal: better understanding of the science, greater public trust in the development process and hence successful adoption of the new treatment or product in question.

6. Driving technological innovation

Finally, the pharmaceutical world can also play a key role in supporting the introduction of new technologies within the NHS. A good example of this is Takeda's work with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust to develop a new app to help measure outcomes for service users with ADHD.

The project is designed to improve the way teams improve user experience, help clinical teams make better decisions about treatments, and ultimately lead to gains in the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

Technologies like these, driven forward in partnership between the health, med tech and pharma worlds, are seen as a vital way in which the NHS can re-invent itself post-COVID. They align well with the vision of the Long Term Plan and the direction set out in the government's White Paper.

Both by supporting financially and contributing their own technical knowledge and expertise, pharma can make an important contribution to this agenda, which should again ultimately support better outcomes for patients and service users.

A golden opportunity

While in reality they are often overlapping, these six basic models of partnership working map out the different ways in which pharma can collaborate meaningfully with NHS customers. The specific examples I've given capture the unique value that industry can bring to the NHS: its in-depth knowledge of specific patient groups, its data expertise, its technical and scientific knowledge, its capacity to contribute to pathway redesign and, of course, the professional skills and financial resource it can bring into play.

What makes these projects stand out, however, is the fact that they promise lasting benefits that support the NHS' long-term vision and – crucially – they offer something that the NHS simply couldn't deliver on its own. That's ultimately where pharma's value lies.

Whether in the ABPI's code revisions or the White Paper reforms, I believe there's every sign we are entering the era of bigger and deeper collaboration between pharma and NHS providers – and with this comes a golden opportunity for industry to work hand-in-hand with the NHS to improve services for patients.There's no better time, therefore, to reach out and make the connection.