A marriage made in hell? NHS resistance to Pharma, Med-tech and Appliance sector collaborations is holding back progress

Why would a primary care network (PCN) ever say: “We don’t work with pharmaceutical, medical technology or appliance companies – we just don’t do anything with them.”?

I heard this exact comment recently and asked what the issue was. The PCN in question replied in quite vague terms, saying there were trust issues and GPs didn’t like bringing in people from outside the NHS.

The problem is they could be missing out on many valuable opportunities here. Many solutions offered by the Pharma, MedTech and Appliance companies could create time savings, workload reductions through fewer appointments, referrals and admissions, and better patient outcomes, while tackling health inequalities for PCNs and GP practices. So how do you get over that hump?

How do you convince a reluctant PCN that teaming up with a partner from the Pharma, Med-tech or Appliance industry might just be the best thing they could ever do?

Have a look at what you’re already doing – could a partner help?

In this particular case, the answer was obvious. I reminded them that, like much of the NHS, they were drowning in workload with insufficient people to meet the demand. They were desperate for new ideas. They needed to innovate and try to manage the patients differently to relieve some of the pressure.

In these circumstances, why would you turn down the chance to work with an industry that is highly regulated and is almost certainly going to want you to sign up to a Department of Health-approved joint working agreement, which is very, very tightly controlled?

There are so many good opportunities for the PCN or GP to own, shape and drive the project with the industry partner supporting them.

Collaboration with an industry partner is critical to moving forward

My message to NHS healthcare providers is this – you have to prescribe something. So have a look at your local formulary, the products that you’re happy with and that you already prescribe and use, and then look at whether or not there’s an opportunity to collaborate with an industry partner to create a project that helps alleviate the workload pressure you’re facing.

This kind of collaboration can speed up the reduction of unnecessary appointments, referrals and admissions by giving the patient a better outcome – better access to the right treatment often does that.

Also, the industry usually comes equipped with tools that the NHS doesn’t have. It will have data that the NHS will already have but not in a format they can readily use. And often, and most importantly, industry can sometimes provide teams of nurses and pharmacists who can help deliver the project. Additionally, they almost always include training and education as part of any project, which leaves a legacy.

Working together will drive patient outcomes in the right direction

The key to all this, of course, is improving patient outcomes. And for a lot of the NHS clients I work with, the big driver is trying to reduce unnecessary appointments, referrals and non-elective admissions. And that is often tied to tackling health inequalities, which is a big focus for the NHS right now and is included in the primary care network DES.

Just in the past few months, I’ve worked with Pharma, Med-tech and Appliance companies on three projects that tackle inequalities. They’ve worked really well and have all been extended beyond their original terms because they’re working.

Adding in a two-cycle audit as standard

One of the other things we do as part of these projects with the industry is add in a two-cycle CQC audit as standard, representing enormous added value for the practices. In 2022 the list of projects I’ve worked on within the NHS that have included industry partners have been concerned with:

  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Allergy
  • Women’s health
  • Heart failure
  • Atrial fibrillation (which also included providing Holter ECGs on subcontract from the local hospital trust)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Wound care
  • Vaccination programmes outside of the standard flu and COVID booster programmes
  • Hypertension
  • Mental health

Almost all of these have been joint working agreements where they’re operating within the approved framework from the Department of Health. That should give the NHS confidence that finding an industry partner is a good route to go down.

So, from a pharmaceutical company perspective, if you’re struggling to land the projects with the NHS, come and have a chat. And equally, from an NHS perspective, if you are wondering about any of these projects, make contact. I’m very happy to share what we’ve been doing, and I can connect you to the industry partners if that would be of interest. I run workshops for PCNs and GP practices that will help you utilise latest initiatives to your advantage.

Fed up of pulling in different directions? I help GPs, PCNs, GP federations, and Integrated Care Systems tackle their communication and process challenges to build sustainable and resilient practices that produce better outcomes for all. If you’d like to find out more, schedule a call today.