18 healthcare organisations across the UK have agreed a new set of guidelines to promote positive collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry and help guide working practices and interactions.

The guidance has been formulated by the Ethical Standards in Health and Life Sciences Group (ESHLSG), which consists of leading figures from the professional, representative and regulatory bodies within the health professional community and life sciences industry. The Group was established to address issues in partnership which impact on the relationship between commercial organisations and health professionals and ensure that such relationships meet the expectations of stakeholders, especially patients.

A statement of best practice signed by the 18 organisations acknowledges that active collaboration can deliver better patient care and improved outcomes. It also describes the current working environment in which pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals operate and the rules and regulations to which all parties must adhere, and it sets out, in a "dos and don'ts" section, everyday practical advice for those working in collaboration to improve patient outcomes. 

The guidelines have been published as collaborative working becomes an increasingly important way for the NHS to address key health challenges in a constrained budgetary environment, say the partner organisations. "We already have many examples that show how effective [joint working] can be," added Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

"The NHS and pharmaceutical industry share a common agenda to improve patient care and clinical outcomes through high-quality and cost-effective treatment and care management. With this shared interest, pooling expertise and resources allows us to together tackle disease more effectively," he said.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, welcomed the setting up of the ESHLSG as "a positive step forward in promoting collaboration between healthcare and the pharmaceutical and devices industry. There are many real benefits to be gained by working together in an open and transparent manner and this new set of guidelines are an excellent start," he said.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) also welcomes this “important collaboration," noted the College’s chair, Dr Clare Gerada. She pointed out that the relationship between healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry “can be confusing, for professionals as well as patients, and the lines between the two sides can become blurred."

"This work will provide much-needed clarity, as well as setting new standards for transparency and best practice that will provide reassurance for patients and improve the care and services they receive," said Dr Gerada.

Dr Richard Tiner, president of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said the principles within the new guidance "herald a new era of collaborative working that will encourage innovation in science and medical practice in the UK."

The Faculty is "particularly pleased" that the guidance highlights the issue of adverse event reporting, "as the utilisation of the yellow card scheme by healthcare professionals and patients is vital in denveloping safe and effective medicines," said Dr Tiner.

• The document has been signed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Pharmacological Society, the British Medical Association, the UK Department of Health, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, The Institute of Healthcare Management, The Lancet, the Medical Schools Council, the NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Royal College of Nursing, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.