The work of patient groups has so often been based on the principle that when we work together, everyone benefits. Two decades of experience working in health charities across a range of disease areas has reinforced my belief that only through commitment, creativity and collaboration can we deliver meaningful change for patients, both in the UK and around the world.

In my role as CEO of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, I had the privilege to join the judging panel for the Patient Partnership Index 2021. The Index is a unique initiative working to explore how pharmaceutical companies and patient groups can best work together in the future by showcasing the most innovative and impactful partnerships taking place today.

Earlier in June, I came together with the other Index judges – drawn from across the life sciences industry and from healthcare communications – to discuss a range of fascinating and inspiring examples of pharma-patient partnerships submitted to the Index this year.

The work of health charities has not stopped, and indeed demand for support has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic as people seek help and advice related to their conditions. This combined with the tremendous demand on resources and financial pressures experienced by health charities because of the pandemic has meant the past 15 months have been amongst the most challenging our sector has experienced.

In these circumstances, the material support partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry can bring to health charities are clear. But meaningful partnerships are far more than a simple quid pro quo for resources and can have far-reaching impacts that lead to genuine improvements in patient outcomes.

I was delighted to see so many positive examples of partnerships where companies valued not only how they could work with health charities, but how they could learn from the perspective and experience of patients and build their voice into how they approached advocacy and communications. Forward-thinking companies in the Index designed their projects with their partners and identified objectives that meet the real needs, leading to carefully planned, insight-driven initiatives that make a measurable difference to patients’ lives.

The entries to the Index not only showcase what best practice in patient partnerships looks like today; they also provide a fascinating insight into the ideas that are shaping the future of patient advocacy. Advocacy must be about bringing patient communities together, and a greater focus on diversity and inclusivity must lead to patient communities, and not just the patient groups representing them, involved in how projects are designed so that the authentic patient voice is represented.

Advocacy that is driven by these insights will ensure the partnership’s objectives are aligned across all parties involved. By being clear about these goals, partnerships are freed to think outside of the box about how to accomplish these. It’s also about building patient advocacy from being transactional and project-based to being enduring and empowering. The best relationships between patient groups and pharmaceutical companies are adaptable and long-term – an ongoing dialogue, as equal partners, that strives for change and is always evolving its thinking.

I’m excited to join my fellow judges again at the Patient Partnership Index panel discussion ‘What’s next for patient advocacy?’, a free virtual event bringing together leaders from the pharma industry and patient groups. Register here to join us on Tuesday 6th July to explore the insights and ideas from the Index, and how we work together to build an even better future for patients everywhere.

Sarah Woolnough is CEO of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.