Joint working with pharmaceutical companies should be "explicitly" positioned as an enabler of clinical commissioning, but its name probably needs changing, says the NHS.

The ethos and local focus of NHS/industry joint working initiatives are closely aligned with the principles of clinical commissioning, and their focus on small-scale projects addressing local health needs, with the potential to be repeated elsewhere or at scale, present a real opportunity to local health economies to improve services, according to new recommendations from NHS Primary Care Commissioning (PCC).

"With NHS budgets remaining flat, at best, for the foreseeable future, and the state of the economy set to increase pressure on public services, access to commercial skills and resources will be more important than ever in 2011 and beyond," they add.

However, PCC notes that pharmaceutical industry/NHS joint working arrangements remain "unusual," despite the guidance of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)/Department of Health toolkit on joint working, and the ABPI Code of Practice.

The APBI Code is not being used effectively, says Martin Anderson, former ABPI director of NHS policy and partnership and now an independent consultant.

"Pharmaceutical companies are rightly concerned about ensuring that they do not break the ABPI Code of Practice - however, with regards to joint working, some appear to bend over backwards and then tie themselves in knots to avoid doing so," PCC quotes Mr Anderson as saying.

PCC's new recommendations call for joint working to be explicitly positioned "as an enabler of clinical commissioning, highlighting the similarities of approach and ethos, and the contribution joint working can make in addressing the QIPP [Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention] challenge, supporting local health service improvement led by clinical commissioning groups [CCGs] and their constituent general practices and focusing on the most effective use of NHS resources and value for money."

Results need to be shared, they say, emphasising that: "agreement to publish results to a national repository should be a formal requirement of joint working arrangements." 

Also, "educational benefit" needs to be added to the joint working criteria. "Better-educated patients will be better able to manage their own health and better-educated clinicians will be better able to prescribe appropriate treatment," says PCC.

An effective communications programme needs to be developed, the main goals of which should be to address the cultural barriers to joint working and to provide clear evidence of success, says PCC, and it also proposes that "joint working" might be renamed.

"While the concept is sound, the programme has not been conspicuously successful to date, and a new name might help inject renewed vigour," it suggests.

The PCC recommendations also call on the ABPI and Department of Health to lead a coordinated approach to the promotion of joint working, "to avoid duplication of effort and confusion of messages."