NHS Confederation head Mike Farrar has called for a stronger relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the National Health Service to tackle austerity through better service provision.

His speech on the impact of austerity on the NHS, given at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry conference last week, was heavily peppered with support for closer working between these two very different factions of healthcare.

According to Farrar, the early sucess of the QIPP challenge has largely been met by picking off low-hanging fruit, using short-term measures - such as the NHS pay deal - to generate quick cost savings.

But moving on, the only way to handle austerity is through a change in service provision, meaning less dependence on acute services, providing better care though the optimal use of medicines, and greater use of technology.

Innovative medicines might have a short-term cost, but they come with long-term benefit, he said, stressing that the NHS must find a way to manage the advantages of a new medicine.

Build on trust

"We must build on trust between the sectors to allow the NHS to capitalise on what the industry has to offer," he said, noting that the opportunity of joint working is not been realised quickly enough. 

From next year, the incoming NHS Commissioning Board and local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will bring about a huge change in the NHS operating landscape, which may help to fuel a shift in attidues and behaviour that will underpin the better use of medicines.

Indeed, CCGs "will be more engaged with clinical effectiveness of the pharma agenda,' Farrar noted.

But also speaking at the conference, Johnny Marshall, interim director of partnership development at NHS Clinical Commissioners, pointed out that "comissioning on the basis of outcomes is a long way away at the moment", and alluding to the barriers that still need to be overcome to make any difference in the system, he noted that there is "no sense in commissioning new medicines to cut hospital stays if we con't decommission the beds".

In any case, Marshall told delegates that "it's going to take two-three years to bring about any substantial change."