“Many people call joint working innovative but it’s really common sense. The key is patient benefit, and this is something where both sides can be rewarded,” said the Department of Health’s Naima Khondkar, speaking at PharmaTimes’ Partnerships in Health Networking Day and Awards on 12 July. “Joint working doesn’t need to be expensive. It’s not about money,” she added, “but how we bring together skills for a better health outcome”.

These skills were clearly in evidence as the Partnerships in Health Awards were given out to Astellas/WG Consulting and Durham Dales CCG for Urology pathway redesign, Sanofi Pasteur MSD/NHS/local government for Celebrate and protect – promoting the uptake of childhood vaccines across London boroughs, and to Boehringer Ingelheim/Georgina Craig Associates and Durham Dales CCG for Experience-led commissioning in stroke prevention and atrial fibrillation.

The winning urology project – which was prompted by high doctor referrals in the seven NHS partnership sites, resulting in a £500,000 overspend – aimed to improve services through integrated analysis/redesign of the patient pathway and, according to the independent panel of judges, which included Khondkar, is “a superb example of partnership working”.

Neil Parkin, a market access manager at Astellas, said the problem had been considered “almost too difficult to solve, and needed outside help to show up the faults in the system”. Key to the project’s success is a rapid access nurse who aims to see a patient within five days of a GP referral, thereby ending duplication of tests, plus a change in GP referral behavior, all of which have led to a 30-40% reduction in secondary referrals.

The second joint winner, Celebrate and protect, focused on six deprived areas where twice as many children live in poverty than elsewhere, and where childhood immunisation levels are below the WHO 95% aim. Birthday cards are sent out from GP practices for new arrivals, and on a child’s first and fourth birthdays, containing a simple vaccination reminder. This project is now being rolled out to 12 PCTs in the UK, and Brazil has also shown an interest in the scheme. The judges said it was the “innovative approach” of this project that most impressed them.

Experience-led commissioning took a different approach by targeting stroke prevention and improving the patient experience “by tapping into existing resources and using them in different ways”. With 10 practitioners currently in training in experience-led commissioning, the focus is now on how the project can be funded and rolled out across the whole CCG.

Commenting on the project, Stewart Findlay, chief clinical officer at Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG, said: “It demonstrates that it is easy to work with industry and that they’re not just interested in selling pills.”

The September issue of PharmaTimes Magazine will include a full report on the Partnerships in Health Networking Day that took place alongside these awards.