The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has published new guidance to help pharmaceutical companies engaged in joint working programmes with the National Health Service ensure they are operating within the bounds of its stringent Code of Practice.

The guidelines, which were created with input from ABPI members and after consultation with external stakeholders such as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Department of Health, set out to provide a transparent framework for pharmaceutical companies on various aspects of joint working projects, to help encourage new schemes and maintain a culture of openness and accountability.

According to a spokesperson for the ABPI, the new guidance should help to give companies “reassurance when working with NHS organisations to benefit patient care,” and a spokesman for the National Association of Primary Care also stressed the importance of encouraging transparent arrangements “to ensure that all parties - patients, the NHS and the pharmaceutical company - derive their desired outcomes”.

Publication of the ABPI’s recommendations for joint working falls in line with the recent growing drive to encourage closer partnerships between the industry and the health service because of the potential benefits to patients such alliances may deliver.

Given its extensive knowledge on illnesses and innovative medicines, the pharmaceutical industry is sitting on a deep well of expertise that could, through a variety of different locally tailored healthcare initiatives, help the NHS boost patient care and treatment outcomes and better meet the demands of a 21st century health service.

In recognition of this potential, the government shifted its support of joint working programmes up a gear in February last year with the publication of its own set of guidelines offering advice on how primary care trusts, pharmaceutical companies and clinicians can best work side by side to design novel solutions to meet medical needs in a particular community.

And the principle of joint working was further driven into health policy by Lord Ara Darzi in his report Next Stage Review: High Quality Care for All published last summer, in which he stated the intention of fostering “a pioneering health service that makes best use of the talents of NHS staff, the higher education and industry”.

Growing successes
How joint working can deliver real benefits to patients has already been demonstrated by various ongoing projects. For example, East Lincolnshire PCT’s work with three pharmaceutical firms resulted in significantly lower rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the region, through the identification of patients suspected to have the condition and their subsequent treatment in special COPD clinics.

In addition, Nottingham PCT’s ground-breaking Happy Hearts programme – under which it has linked hands with six pharmas to boost treatment outcomes in heart disease - is also showing signs of success.

The project, which is equally funded by the industry group and the Trust, looks at GP databases to identify patients at risk from heart disease to enable earlier intervention through lifestyle changes or medication, in the hope of making some headway in the fight against the UK's number one killer.