Opinion

How should the pharma industry navigate the NHS in a changing world?

Time to stop seeing each other as impenetrable

There is an age-old assumption that the NHS is hard to navigate and at times, impenetrable. At our recent roundtable with NHS and pharma industry colleagues, it became apparent that the NHS finds pharma equally difficult to understand and navigate. Over a two-hour meeting where we shared experiences by both parties, we identified key factors that we felt correlated to the fragmented relationship between the sectors.

Whitehall is no longer the answer: STPs present a powerful new engagement opportunity

There is the notion that in order to succeed in the NHS market, and to have meaningful discussions about reimbursement, pathway, value contribution and patient access you must go to the top – NHS England for example. We observed that the pharma industry habitually looks towards Whitehall for advice on how to engage with those in healthcare. But governmental departments are by no means the only source of information and frankly shouldn’t be.

We are in an era of change and integration in the NHS, with power and funding being shifted towards Sustainable Transformation Partnership (STPs) and the new Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) by NHS England. Whilst Brexit dominates the agenda and headspace in Whitehall, when it comes to the NHS, there’s been a significant shift of influence away from Westminster towards local NHS and local authority leadership. It’s crucial for the pharma industry to be engaged with the shifting system in order to embark on effective and strategic conversations.

Same problem, different angle

This isn’t a single edged sword by any means, hospital chief executives have likewise confessed they would not know who to approach in a pharma company if they wanted to explore opportunities for designing new patient and treatment pathways.

We also saw mutual problems, but they are considered and tackled in very different ways. Pharma is troubled by Brexit and a forthcoming rise in tax rates. Similarly, the NHS are also facing huge consequences from the fall out of Brexit, and in spite of a recent funding package from No 10, it still faces unparalleled financial pressure.

If innovation and new partnerships are often borne out of times of stress, there isn’t a better time to collaborate and break down barriers. As the NHS is moving towards population health management and it starts to organise itself around patient needs and place-based care, there is an opportunity to reset the relationship and to think about new currencies on which to base conversations about cost and value. But that means taking time out to think longer term about what the market needs from a pharma industry and therefore on what terms to meet.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our pharma seminar series, please email Rachel Shortte rachel.shortte@zpb-associates.com