Unless a more collaborative relationship between the pharmaceutical industry, the National Health Service and the medical profession is forged then future progress in patient care could be at risk, a powerful new report by the Royal College of Physicians has concluded.

Compiled by a multi-sector working party brought together by the Royal College of Physicians and led by Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet, the new report, Innovating for health: Patients, physicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS, has identified a number of what it considers to be “critical threats” to clinical research, and makes several recommendations to help healthcare stakeholders pull together for the good of the patient.

According to the report, the biggest challenges currently holding back pharmaceutical innovation and progress in healthcare in the UK fall under two themes: patient disillusionment with medicines policy and distrust between the NHS and the industry.

In particular, patients’ waning faith in the prescribing process is being fuelled by frustrations with the so-called postcode lottery of treatment in the UK, as well as the general feeling that access to many innovative medicines is restricted.

On the other side of the fence, the RCP report describes “major issues” in the working relationship between the industry and the NHS. It says many doctors feel that professional learning and development is too heavily dependent on the support of the industry, while the industry complains of reluctance by the NHS and academia to work alongside it.

Proposals for change
In order to best address these challenges, the report makes no less than 42 proposals to help redefine the way the NHS, academia and industry interact with each other to help create an environment in which all can work more closely together towards the common goal of improving healthcare in the country.

Central to this is restoring patient confidence in the prescribing process, and the report suggests this could be achieved through a comprehensive access to medicines strategy to reduce health inequalities across the country, as well as a medicines information strategy to ensure patients are getting independent and quality information about the effectiveness of treatments.

Another problem is patient unease over the perceived closeness between some medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies. To help allay these concerns, the report recommends the medical profession adopt the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Seven Principles of Public Life: selflessness; integrity; objectivity; accountability; openness; honesty; and leadership, in the hope that abiding by this code of practice will help maintain ethical working relationships across the board.

Along the same lines, the report also suggests that the pharmaceutical industry is gradually removed from sponsoring professional development to encourage a more trusting environment, and that funding for postgraduate training should be provided through other sources, such as the Royal Colleges.

Pulling together
The Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry has welcomed the publication of the report. “The RCP has taken a long, hard look at how doctors, academics and the pharmaceutical industry work together, with a specific focus on what is in the best interests of patients,” commented Richard Tiner, its Medical Director. “The report highlights how the views of the industry and NHS are fragmented and sets out concrete and constructive recommendations to get all sides pulling together."

To help drive forward its strategies, the RCP is setting up a Pharmaceutical Forum of doctors, scientists, research funders, industry representatives, editors and patient groups, which will keep an eye on progress made over the next two years.