6 Ways To Win An Audience With The NHS

When I sit down with people working within the Pharma, Med Tech and Appliance sector, typically, they want to know three things:

1.    How do you get a game-changing product in front of the NHS?

2.    How do you get access to the correct decision-makers?

3.    What’s the best way to get them to quickly see the benefits of whatever it is you’re bringing to the table?

I understand how frustrating it is to know you’ve got something up your sleeve that could make a massive difference to patients’ lives, but you can’t get to speak to the right people. That golden opportunity goes begging.

I’ve written before about the importance of clients differentiating themselves and standing out as innovators.

But there’s more to it than that…

1.    Good morning, here’s the NHS news

If you don’t know how the land lies, you’re likely to waste time and effort chasing dead-end leads. That’s why, first and foremost, you need a good understanding of everything that is going on in the NHS right now. I support my client with this via updates, workshops, and 1:1 coaching and mentoring, keeping them updated on the key NHS priorities so they know exactly how to align their messages against the current pressing agenda.

Typically, they do that by parking their product and working way beyond the molecule. As part of my policy and guidance updates, I look at how any changes can impact their approach or present new opportunities.

So if a client is operating in the mental health sector, we’ll take a look at the operational planning guidance from a mental health perspective and explore what angle they could make an approach from. With another client in wound care, asthma or any disease area, I might look at it from that specific company perspective and advise on how they can capitalise on the guidance.

Even with specialised commissioning – very low volume but very high-cost commissioning – it is currently handled by NHS regions but is about to be delegated down to the integrated care systems. This presents new opportunities not previously available to the pharma, med tech and appliance sector that I’ve been able to help clients make the most of.

2.    It’s all about the little black book

As a management consultant to the NHS for 18+ years now, something I get asked for a lot is introductions to my NHS colleagues. For my retainer clients, I actually include this as part of the service, as I know just how valuable this can be. Of course, it all depends on the client as to how successful that introduction is, and I can’t offer any guarantees, but I’m certainly happy to make an approach if I feel it would be fruitful.  

If my NHS colleague is happy to be introduced to a market access team, for example, then I’ll put the wheels in motion. Often, after the initial conversation, I can then help establish new pilot projects and develop new ways of partnership working.

3.    NHS pilot case studies can be worth their weight in gold

Third-party proof is extremely powerful when you’re trying to establish credibility with your NHS customers. One of the key ways to demonstrate why the NHS should work with you is to have a reference site in your project and/or tool kit – somewhere you can refer your NHS prospects who may have a question over a project and say: “Don’t hear it from us, go and hear it from the NHS client we’ve already worked with.” I’ve been happy to assist clients with establishing these impactful reference sites so they are equipped for success before they even walk into the room with their pitch. Their value cannot be underestimated.

4.    Helping you to throw a different perspective on the pathways of care

To align your pitch to the current NHS agenda sometimes means taking a fresh look at the pathways of care and whether there is scope for redesign, particularly where workload pressures are high. When there aren’t enough people to meet demand, I hear my NHS client base say to me: “Scott, how do we innovate? What can we do differently? What projects are you aware of that would alleviate workload pressure on us as General Practice?” 

Part of what I do is then working in conjunction with my pharma, med tech and appliance clients to find ways to develop solutions to those real and pressing challenges. This forms part of the coaching and work sessions with the industry to help create the projects my clients can take to the NHS that will engage that workload agenda.  

5.    Speak to the problem they’ll immediately recognise

Over the last couple of years and back into the pandemic period, I’ve been able to help clients implement projects in a whole host of different disease areas – wound care, asthma, COPD, allergy, dry eye disease, mental health, diabetes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, women’s health, near patient testing, and vaccination programmes. So you can see how far-reaching this ‘customer first’ approach is when selling to the NHS.

At the heart of all those successes lies clear and compelling messaging that enables the companies I’m working with to make progress with the NHS that otherwise has proved challenging for them to gain traction.

There’s a phrase I like to use which is really simple – please don’t bore us get to the chorus. If you think about the songs you know, and love, most of us don’t know all the words, but we certainly know the chorus. So, when you get to the main bit of the song, everyone recognises it and can sing along.

In practice, this means parking your product and talking to the NHS about the chorus – the agenda they want you to engage with. From there, once we’ve defined that, I can help people very quickly move from strategy and strategic approach into tactical implementation.

6.    Grab their attention by thinking long term

Pharma, Med Tech and Appliance clients who subscribe to my ongoing programme of NHS sales support understand the benefits of phasing pieces of work over longer periods than might normally be expected within the NHS. NHS decision-makers are drowning in work and don’t have a lot of headspace to think about new projects and ways of working, so phasing over a longer time has been the key to getting projects over the line previously.

A couple of projects I’ve worked on were phased over 12 months and had brilliant outcomes for my clients but also, more importantly, for patients and for the NHS. And that’s a really crucial point. In every Pharma, Med Tech and Appliance project I have worked on, we have been able to demonstrate that we are improving patient outcomes, reducing unnecessary appointments, referrals and admissions, and tackling health inequalities.

Enhanced Access has more recently presented another opening, because Primary Care Networks are delivering Enhanced Access on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday between 6.30pm and 8pm and on a Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Those networks are very often open to implementing new projects in those hours.

And then last but by no means least, one of the other things I do with all the projects that involve any sort of audit is work with the industry partner to help them convert it to a two-cycle or a four-cycle CQC audit, which is obviously a massive benefit to the NHS client.

Hopefully, this gives some clarity around the ways an experienced NHS Management Consultant can bring fresh insight and innovative ideas to breaking down the barriers of working with the NHS. Through these partnerships, my clients have enjoyed significant success. I’m always happy to share case studies with you if you’d like to know more.

Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology and appliance firms increase revenue by getting their products and services in front of the right NHS decision makers. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too.