The findings of a major new study have uncovered a desire by a large number of UK GPs for closer relations with pharmaceutical firms, and also reveal a growing divide between the current modus operandi of companies and the needs of an evolving National Health Service.

According to the report What the Doctor Ordered, by global management consultancy Hay Group, 58% of GPs think primary care and pharma should have a much closer relationship, in the hope that this will help generate a higher standard of patient care as well as nurture a culture of knowledge and resource sharing and break down any barriers of distrust.

“GPs clearly recognise the benefit of working in partnerships with pharma, but the relationship must shift to a more collaborative model to reflect the changing nature of the NHS,” says Joan Pennington, Head of Pharma Consulting at Hay Group, and she stresses that “pharma must move from supplier to partner, sharing commercial skills - such as business planning, budgeting and project management - in order to generate clear long-term benefits for clinicians and their patients, and ‘lock in’ their firm’s services.”

The study also follows previous findings that, while the majority of GPs (62%) feel that practice-based commissioning - under which primary care trusts are given their own budgets to make local decisions on what to commission - has not had any great impact on patient care since its introduction, many remain confident that it will drive improvements long-term, such as the better use of hospital services.

But, importantly, while many GPs feel the rise of PBC will necessitate a major renovation of current pharmaceutical sales operations, with companies having to switch to more value-for-money, outcomes-based strategies to help commissioners’ decision making, there is concern that salesforces are unequipped to handle the changes that PBC will bring. According to Pennington: “Dramatic change is required in the structure and behaviour of pharmaceutical firms,” so that the industry can better follow the switch of the NHS’ focus to “long-term health outcomes, quality of care and the ‘return on investment’ of different interventions”, rather than the increasingly redundant product-driven model.

Strengths and weaknesses
Taking a closer look at GPs’ opinion on pharmaceutical representatives, 84% cited strong product knowledge and 64% strong clinical knowledge as key strengths, but, on the flip side, a lack of understanding patient or GP needs was pointed to, with 18% and 16% of doctors surveyed scoring these skills as poor or very poor, respectively.

Although product knowledge was considered a strong point, 96% of repsondents felt that an even greater depth of knowledge would help reps to build stronger long-term relationships with the NHS, while 92% singled out better communication and influencing skills and 80% strong values and principles as crucial ingredients.
But, it was also revealed that, while 76% of GPs see sales representatives on a monthly basis, a substantial 22% only have face-to-face contact every six months, so greater interaction between the two sides will no doubt also be an important factor in fostering closer relations.

“The NHS and pharma companies need to develop a very different way of working in collaboration in order to deliver better outcomes for patients,” Pennington concludes. “Whilst the NHS needs to take a more commercial approach, pharma firms must support this change by focusing on long-term value.”