Government encourages NHS/industry partnerships

The government has published guidance promoting partnerships between the National Health Service and the pharmaceutical industry, in a new tactic to improve patient care and help the service meet the rapidly changing demands of the 21st century.

Given its extensive knowledge on illnesses and innovative medicines, the industry certainly has a lot to offer the health service in terms of helping to boost patient care, and the government is hoping that the NHS will tap into this rich source of expertise to put in place a variety of locally tailored healthcare initiatives.

“We know that joint working between the NHS and pharmaceutical industry can bring real benefits to patients so we want the NHS to work with them more to improve patient care,” explained Health Minister Dawn Primarolo.

According to the Department of Health, the new guidance has been designed to provide advice on how primary care trusts, pharmaceutical companies and clinicians can work side by side to design novel solutions to meet the medical needs in a particular community, as well as inform NHS staff of their main responsibilities when working with the industry, with a strong emphasis on accountability and openness.

The requirement for guidance on industry-NHS joint working came out of the Long-term Leadership Strategy - a joint initiative between the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and Department of Health - which recognised the benefits a closer working relationship could bring, Martin Anderson, ABPI Director of NHS Policy and Partnerships told PharmaTimes.

The ABPI had no direct involvement in the guidance and was not consulted during its development, but the Association is working closely with the DH to develop a toolkit for use by the NHS and industry to support joint working and include information on positive examples, which is due to be launched next month, Anderson said.

Many successes
There have already been documented successes of how such relationships can deliver real benefits to patients. East Lincolnshire PCT, for example, has worked with three firms to bring down rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The parties joined forces to root out patients suspected to have the condition, as well as train clinicians to manage these patients and set up special COPD clinics. The results were impressive; the PCT recorded a 23% drop in admission rates compared to single-figure fall booked by other trusts in the area.

A further example of a promising joint-working relationship currently underway is Nottingham PCT’s Happy Hearts programme, a ground-breaking new project that has seen a group of six pharmaceutical companies work hand-in-hand with the PCT to help boost patient care and better treatment outcomes in heart disease, the UK’s number one killer.

The project - the brainchild of a partnership involving Merck-Serono, MSD, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, Schering-Plough, Solvay and Nottingham PCT that is equally funded by the industry group and Trust - involves the targeting of patients at risk from heart disease, diabetes or stroke. These patients are identified from GP databases, and are given advice on healthier lifestyle choices and, if necessary, medical intervention, by specialist clinical healthcare assistants.

Shift in partnerships
Traditionally, NHS-industry partnerships have largely been based on sponsorship, whereby pharmaceutical companies give PCTs money for an initiative but then take a step back, but the Happy Hearts project is a prime example of how both factions can have equal input into all decisions on every stage of the project, Jan Balmer, Regional Facilitator for the ABPI’s NHS Outreach programme in the East Midlands told PharmaTimes when the project was launched back in December.

"Pharma is very keen to develop joint-working with the NHS," Anderson told PharmaTimes. "There is nothing wrong with sponsorship, but it is not always the most appropriate solution," he stressed.

“Increasingly, the importance of [the industry’s] knowledge being shared with our partners in the NHS for the benefit of patients is being recognised,” remarked Richard Barker, director-general of the ABPI, and added that the government’s new guidance “can only encourage the constructive use of such activity in the UK”.

The British Medical Association however, was more cautious in its response to the new guidance. “If there are clear transparent guidelines so that the clinical freedom of doctors is not compromised, the BMA does not see why there cannot be closer cooperation between the NHS and the pharma industry,” a spokesperson said. “However, we would need to see the full details of individual planned projects before commenting fully.”

PharmaTimes is running a meeting on joint industry-NHS working on April 28 in London, at which PCTs, industry and the NHS will provide examples of recent joint working at national, regional and local levels as well as recent learning on what to do and not to do. For further information, email